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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Alex Diaz de la Portilla, editorialist-advocate



As a deal on rail projects hits roadbloacks, Senate Majority leader Alex Diaz de la Portilla is working the phones – and his pen.

The Miami Republican lobbied one House member to submit an editorial to drum up home-town support to help the measure pass in his own chamber. First stop: Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.

Now who else lives in Bradenton? Oh yeah, that would be Sen. Mike Bennett, loyal reader of the Bradenton Herald. One of the Republican no votes on the SunRail deal the past few years. He frets about the $1 billion cost and taxpayer indemnification of private rail carrier CSX once the state buys its tracks.

“Diaz de la Portilla sent a copy over and asked if I’d look at it, consider making changes and maybe submit it to the paper. I said sure,” Galvano said.

DLP's not the only senator submitting editorials. Senators around the state plan to ask their respective edit pages to print their we-love-SunRail pieces.

Bennett wasn’t too offended either. In fact, he’s starting to warm to SunRail. But not because of the editorial maneuver by Diaz de la Portilla. Rather, Bennett likes the fact that CSX will have some liability in accidents. And, he said, “those of us in quasi-leadership don’t want to embarrass the Florida Senate. I’m keeping an open mind. Normally I don’t dodge these types of questions, but I need to take my time and hear all the facts.”

Embarrassment indeed. If the Republicans don’t back Senate President Jeff Atwater, who took the risk of calling the session without enough guaranteed votes, it bodes for rough sledding in the upper chamber. Interesting note, most Republican rail opponents happen to be supporters of Sen. Alex Villalobos, whom Diaz de la Portilla’s helped oust as likely Senate President in order to install Atwater.

But the real cause of the troubles with SunRail is SunRail itself. Sen. Paula Dockery has successfully made it look like a bad deal for two years running. In a time of budget deficits, it’s hard for members to support spending money on a private rail carrier. And it’s an election season in which “stimulus” is a dirty word in Republican circles. This deal was put together to help draw down $2.5 billion in Democratic federal stimulus money for a bullet train.

Below is a rough draft of the Diaz de la Portilla editorial. You read it here first.

Sarasota – A Comprehensive Transportation System is Vital for Florida’s Future Success

As the nation turns its attention to passenger rail as an alternative transportation system, Florida is at a crossroads.  We have two choices before us; we can maintain the status quo by continuing to rely on highways and roads to keep our state connected, thereby allowing other states to receive our taxpayer dollars for transportation.  Or, we can create a comprehensive passenger rail system to keep those dollars here in Florida and strengthen our future economy.

We have a mounting need for alternative transportation.  Florida’s economy depends on efficiently transporting people and goods.  We cannot keep paving our landscape and ignoring proven alternatives.  If we want to equip Florida to compete in the global economy and increase the interconnectivity between our cities we must invest in a transportation system that is broader than highways and roads.

 We also have the opportunity to tap into federal funds that are being distributed to the states to support passenger rail projects.  Every year Florida’s taxpayers send hundreds of millions in tax dollars to the federal government only to see most of it distributed to other states.  The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has applied to receive several billion dollars worth of passenger rail funding to support shovel ready projects that would provide jobs today and long-term economic development.

 However, the federal government has been very clear, only those states that have shown a commitment to passenger rail will be seriously considered when the monies are distributed.  The bill before the Legislature today creates a comprehensive statewide passenger rail system.  It not only dedicates existing transportation dollars for developing and operating passenger rail systems throughout the state, but also creates a Rail Enterprise within FDOT that will be responsible for guiding all aspects of passenger rail networks. 

 In a time when almost a million Floridians are experiencing the pain of unemployment, our shovel ready projects will provide jobs to those who are seeking ways to fulfill their financial obligations.  Infrastructure projects are one the most effective means of economic stimulus.  These projects provide immediate construction jobs and the development that inevitably follows brings more jobs and economic benefits for years to come.

 Passenger rail is a proven mode of alternative transportation.  Europe has used passenger rail systems for decades to increase tourism, link rural and metropolitan areas, and reduce the need for more roads.  Other states that have made investments in rail enjoy a rich return of investment through increased job creation, economic development, and reduced carbon emissions.  These are the states and countries that Florida will compete with for business, commerce, and growth.

The legislation under discussion will transform our transportation system, increase our connectivity, and create a foundation for success in the 21st Century.  If Florida’s leaders are serious about investing in long-term economic success, they must have the courage to make bold decisions today.


[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 1:08pm]


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