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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Siplin, opposing rail: 'I'm not stupid. Ain't nobody crazy here.'



Well, that didn't go very well.

If Senate Dems Jeremy Ring and Al Lawson were hoping to walk away from today's lunchtime Democratic Caucus meeting with support for the rail legislation from their fellow D's, they saw those hopes dashed -- and before a packed room full of reporters, staffers, and rail supporters and opponents.

The most tense exchange came when senators Gary Siplin of Orlando and Tony Hill of Jacksonville took issue with Ring's assertion that defeat of the proposal will lead to "the end of TriRail" and other commuter rail. The feds have threatened to cut $256 million in TriRail money unless the state shows its 'commitment' to rail.

"So if we don't do this now, we have to deal with that," Ring said.

"Well, whose fault is that?" Siplin shot back.

Ring: "The Legislature's."

Hill: "That is not true. South Florida TriRail made that decision." (Each of the three South Florida counties significantly cut the property tax money dedicated to TriRail, so now TriRail is seeking more money and the feds are seeking a show of 'commitment.')

Siplin echoed: "That is not true. I'm not stupid. Ain't nobody crazy here."

Lawson tried to calm things down with: "Come on now. Don't make me have to stand up!"

Hill: "Well, that's what we're trying to do here, is stand up to this."

Siplin and Hill also complained that FDOT officials including Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos haven't bothered to speak with them about the commuter and high-speed rail proposal headed to the Senate floor tomorrow and Wednesday. The secretary was invited to a meeting of the black caucus in November and didn't attend, Siplin said. And noone from th FDOT attended today's Democratic Caucus meeting.

Lawson, who is co-sponsoring the proposal with Ring, said Kopelousos had a doctor's appointment.

"I think it's totally disrespectful that the agency we fund, FDOT, hasn't come to talk to me about this," said Hill. "And I'm vice chair of the committee that's supposed to vote on this tomorrow. And here we are, a roomful of 14 Democrats. This can't be that important if they don't want to talk to us."

Lawson said he's been in talks with FDOT officials. Well, one would hope so, given that he is co-sponsoring the bill...

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


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