TAMPA — Vice President Joe Biden chastised Gov. Rick Scott in Tampa on Wednesday, saying he cost Florida thousands of jobs and cutting-edge infrastructure improvements by rejecting $2.4 billion in federal funding for high-speed rail.
"Your governor, God bless him — I don't know him — but I don't get it," Biden said at a private fundraising reception for Sen. Bill Nelson.
"You had the chance. You were the best situated of all the states in the country to put a truly high-speed line from Tampa through Orlando that would have made money," Biden told more than 150 people, who booed the mention of Scott's name. "Even if you were doubtful, I don't understand how in this economy in Florida you could walk away from 24,000 high-paying jobs."
Scott rejected the stimulus funding for high-speed rail in February, saying he worried it wouldn't be cost-effective and Florida taxpayers would ultimately be on the hook for cost overruns and subsidies.
His office did not responded to a request for comment.
Nelson has been trying to cobble together a deal to salvage the rail project, but that looks like a long shot at best. He remained optimistic standing by Biden's side.
"Let me tell you, high-speed rail is still coming to Florida," said Nelson, who held another reception featuring Biden earlier Wednesday in Winter Park.
Nelson and Obama-Biden will be on Florida's ballot together in 2012. The vice president suggested their political futures are entwined.
"Because of all of you in this room, Bill Nelson won, and, quite frankly, because of you in this room, Barack and I won. Neither Bill nor Barack nor I can win again without you," Biden said.
"Every election time, opponents (of Nelson) trot out the same tired slogan: 'He's a liberal,' " Biden said, with Nelson at his side. "You know why it never works? Because this guy, more than almost anybody I've ever worked with, is about common sense and common ground."
Biden made only passing references to Japan and the Middle East, noting the turbulent and complex issues the administration is dealing with at home and abroad.
"The tectonic plates are moving," he said. "What's happening in the Middle East was always going to happen, but it's happening simultaneously and where it winds up no one knows for sure."
Among the Democrats at the reception were Tampa Mayor-elect Bob Buckhorn, outgoing Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio and former gubernatorial candidates Jim Davis and Bill McBride.
Biden and Nelson also made an unscheduled stop at George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa to check out the Yankees in spring training. A Scranton, Pa., native and Phillies fan, Biden he joked that his wife would kill him if she saw him donning a Yankees cap and jacket.
The vice president never picked up a ball or bat but chatted amiably with manager Joe Girardi and instructor David Wells. In the midst of fielding drills, the players looked uninterested in the visitors.
Adam C. Smith can be reached at email@example.com.