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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Sen. Nancy Detert: 'We have the votes' for SunRail



What magic thing did Gov. Charlie Crist say to Sen. Nancy Detert to get her to switch her nay vote on SunRail?

Not much.

"I went in as a yes and I came out as a yes," Detert said.

"We have the votes now to pass SunRail," Detert said. She's probably right. But by morning, the votes could change.

What changed her mind was the lure of federal train money and the bill itself, she said, specifically the liability provisions that put CSX on the hook to pay some money (up to $10 million) in the case of some accidents. Could the language be better?

"If I could write the bill, I would make it better, but they're not letting me write the bill," Detert said. "You can't give everything to everyone. Nothing's promised. If everyone gets something, then the bill becomes like Thanksgiving: Everybody gets turkey."

Excellent pun from the Sarasota Republican. Turkey is legislative Tallahassee jargon for hometown spending, or what them thar in dee-see call "pork." Ours is more kosher. But hog is still welcome in the Southern Capitol. Someone said House members ate pork for lunch in the member's-only lounge. That was after the chamber approved the bill designed to lead to billions more in railroad stimulus spending. Compared to the Senate, the more conservative House downplays the stimulus talk. The Senate, for its part, is trying to play the ole 'hide the SunRail' trick. Senate leaders say this isn't a SunRail bill.

Sure it isn't.

Yes, the bill calls for more Tri-Rail money and more rail planning via commission and agency. But what has tripped up the Senate is SunRail. SunRail is the key. Change the liability provisions, and senators like Detert can vote for SunRail. The other stuff is far less controversial.

"I can't give enough credit to Paula Dockery," Detert said of the Lakeland senator who has stopped SunRail for two years. "She made the bill better. She saved us from ourselves last session."

Detert doesn't sound overly enthusiastic in her support. So while she hopes for the jobs to come with rail, she said she'd like to add an escape clause allowing Florida to scuttle a deal if the feds don't come through with any cash.

The feds are threatening to take or "claw back" $256 million the state was given to expand Tri-Rail service, which now faces budget cutbacks. But it's not like the state is in a rush to plug what Tri-Rail says is a hole in the budget. The legislation commits up to $15 million more to Tri-Rail on July 1, 2010. Hmm.That's seven months away. In between now and then: The regular lawmaking session where the money can still be appropriated.

As for the urgent need for a new rail commission and "enterprise," the state already has a high-speed rail authority and, since the bill has no fiscal note, the new "Rail Enterprise" looks like it might hire current DOT staffers. Sounds like the state already has the planning tools and staff it needs.

Marc Caputo, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau


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


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