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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Atwater wants December special session on SunRail; not yet sure about gambling



WASHINGTON - Senate President Jeff Atwater, meeting today with federal transportation officials, wants a special session on rail issues in December, contending the state must act on SunRail and TriRail in order to show it is serious about a $2.5 billion federal stimulus request for high speed rail.

"I think there's a strong opportunity now to consider a special session on the matter. What we learned today ... this administration in Washington wants to get moving with investment in infrastructure," Atwater said, adding he planned to talk with House Speaker Larry Cretul and Gov. Charlie Crist about the session. He is not yet sure about adding gambling to the mix.

"I think that's a great idea," Crist said. "I would certainly encourage that and I think that's the right thing for Florida."

"We have fumbled a number of times and it's obvious this time that it might be the last horizon," said Sen. Al Lawson, who joined Atwater along with Sen. J.D. Alexander. It will not be an easy battle. Critics, led by Sen. Paula Dockery, have managed to hold off on SunRail and the state's prolonged recession plays to the argument there is no money to commit.

Alexander said, however, that since the failed vote in May, proponents have been working to spread the virtues of rail and said that Florida could look to Massachusetts for a solution to issues over indemnity. The state, he said, recently worked out a deal with CSX that was better than the one Florida was considering.

U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and George LeMieux both support the initaive and have worked in Washington on behalf of the state's stimulus request. Nelson said he and LeMieux would do whatever necessary to persuade state legislators that the two issues are interconnected.

"This is a solution that is begging for action," Nelson said during a 2 p.m. news conference.

Added LeMieux, "Shame on us if we give up $2.5 billion and an opportunity to transform the way we get around Florida and the way we do business in Florida. I don't think this will happen. These great leaders from the Florida Senate are working hard to not make it a missed opportunity. And I know that the House stands in support as well."

-- Alex Leary

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 2:23pm]


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