In March 2011, Florida Governor Rick Scott took a lot of heat when he canceled the proposed high speed rail project in the Sunshine State by turning away $2.4 billion in federal support. Now he is getting the last laugh (and saving Floridians a ton of money). A new report is urging California to cancel its project based on known cost overruns and an uncertain funding source. “There is simply just no identification of a long-term funding source or commitment, and we think that is a fundamental flaw,” says the report’s author.
It’s worth reviewing how Florida beat the HSR hoax when California did not. A combination of think tanks and activists helped convince the governor it was a bad idea, and most importantly the new governor was willing to listen and be persuaded by facts and sound argument, not fluff and slick rhetoric.
As Ron Utt wrote in National Review at the time: “analysts at Cato, Reason, and Heritage, working both individually and collectively (through the American Dream Coalition), began to produce work that was critical of the proposals.” The American Dream Coalition had perhaps the first in-depth analysis of Florida’s HSR proposal, dating back to June 2009. At the other end, right before Governor Scott’s decision, Wendell Cox published a blistering critique for the Reason Foundation of the Florida HSR proposal showing the probability, not possibility, that Florida taxpayers would be stuck with a huge bill once cost-overruns came to bear.
The real dragon slayers, however, were the various Tea Party organizations around the state, most notably the Tampa Tea Party and Tampa 9/12 Project who mobilized first against an irresponsible light rail project and then continued the push against HSR. Continuing with Utt:
“In September of 2010, the group held a rally to encourage people to vote “no” in a referendum on the proposal, and several members of the American Dream Coalition spoke at the event. Despite being outspent $1,600,000 to $25,000 by the business community and opposed by the political establishment, the Tea Party won, and funding for the light-rail line was defeated.”
We were glad to have played a small role in this big success saving Florida taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars over time.