Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Nugent gives Scott kudos for rejecting rail plan

BROOKSVILLE — As state and federal officials scramble to find a way to bring $2.4 billion to Florida for high speed rail, they aren't getting help from U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent.

Gov. Rick Scott did the right thing this week by saying no thanks to the money that would have paid for a rail line between Tampa and Orlando, Nugent said.

The Spring Hill Republican agreed with Scott's reasoning that the project is too costly for cash-strapped state and federal governments. And, like Scott, Nugent took a shot at President Obama, who considered Florida's rail project the flagship of a $53 billion nationwide rail network.

"The fact of the matter is that the federal government is spending money it doesn't have," Nugent said in a statement Thursday. "The president's goal … is the epitome of 'it would be nice to have' spending. We're running a $1.7 trillion deficit. When we can't afford our basic obligations, we certainly don't have tens of billions in extra money for 'nice to have' projects."

In that context, Nugent said, Scott's decision "is clearly a necessary and responsible choice."

"I just hope that the money is used to pay down part of our $14 trillion national debt," said Nugent, whose sprawling district includes all of Hernando County and the central and eastern portions of Pasco County.

Nugent couldn't be reached for followup questions Friday.

It's unlikely the money would go toward the national debt or any other purpose. The funding has already been committed to high speed rail, and lawmakers from New York and California have asked Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to give those dollars to their states.

"If (Nugent) can convince his colleagues to use that money to pay down the debt, then more power to him," State Sen. Mike Fasano said. "But guess what? That's not going to happen."

Scott predicted construction cost overruns would cost Florida $3 billion, and that low ridership would have required state subsidies. But he drew criticism from members of both major parties for his decision to derail a bipartisan project that has been decades in the making.

The rail line would have skirted the southern edge of the Nugent's district, which includes a swath of Polk County immediately north of Interstate 4. A stop also was planned for Polk. That would likely have meant the district enjoying a share of thousands of construction jobs and a piece of any economic development the line would create.

Nugent's stance puts him at odds with fellow Republicans at every level of government, including three of four lawmakers in Hernando County's state delegation.

State Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, called Scott's move disappointing, saying he should have waited for private consortiums to bid on the project.

Seven teams were planning to bid on the project representing companies from 11 different countries, all experts in building and operating high speed rail systems, Dockery said. The groups had agreed to design, build, operate and maintain the rail system for a fixed price, with no cost overruns and no subsidies.

"It was my hope and expectation that the governor would have allowed these teams to submit proposals before pulling the plug on this true public/private partnership that had little risk to the state and tremendous return to Floridians," Dockery said in a statement Wednesday.

On Thursday, Dockery, one of Scott's first Senate supporters, co-authored a letter urging LaHood to give the money to Florida anyway.

Fasano, R-New Port Richey, also supported Scott's candidacy. Echoing other officials, Fasano said the governor should have at least waited for the Florida Department of Transportation to finish a ridership study.

"I believe this was a great opportunity for us to create thousands of jobs for years to come," Fasano said.

Rejecting the money is essentially handing back what is owed to the state, he said.

"For every dollar Florida citizens send to Washington, we get about 88 cents back for transportation projects," Fasano said. "That $2.4 billion, in my opinion, is a drop in the bucket compared to what the federal government owes the state of Florida."

State Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, said he wasn't upset by Scott's move.

"I don't have a tremendous amount of grief over what the governor did," Schenck said. "I certainly understand his reasoning."

But even Schenck agreed Scott should have waited to evaluate the bids for the project.

State Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness, said he supports rail but said no public money at all should be spent for it.

"It's got to be private industry," Smith said. He said he's hopeful Congress will spend the funds elsewhere.

Nugent is one of dozens of vocal House freshmen who have taken a hard-line stance on the federal budget. He is among the most fiscally conservative members continuing to push GOP leaders to fulfill the party's Pledge to America promise to cut $100 billion from the current year's federal budget despite having just seven months to do it.

The federal government is now operating under a temporary measure that has kept funding at last year's levels.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]

Nugent gives Scott kudos for rejecting rail plan 02/18/11 [Last modified: Friday, February 18, 2011 8:12pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Southeast Seminole Heights holds candlelight vigil for victims' families and each other


    TAMPA — They came together in solidarity in Southeast Seminole Heights, to sustain three families in their grief and to confront fear, at a candlelight vigil held Sunday night in the central Tampa neighborhood.

    A peaceful march that began on east New Orleans Avenue was held during the candlelight vigil for the three victims who were killed in the recent shootings in the Seminole Heights neighborhood in Tampa on Sunday, October 22, 2017.
  2. It's not just Puerto Rico: FEMA bogs down in Florida, Texas too

    HOUSTON — Outside Rachel Roberts' house, a skeleton sits on a chair next to the driveway, a skeleton child on its lap, an empty cup in its hand and a sign at its feet that reads "Waiting on FEMA."

    Ernestino Leon sits among the debris removed from his family’s flood-damaged Bonita Springs home on Oct. 11. He has waited five weeks for FEMA to provide $10,000 to repair the home.
  3. McConnell says he's awaiting Trump guidance on health care

    STERLING, Va. — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday he's willing to bring bipartisan health care legislation to the floor if President Donald Trump makes clear he supports it.

    Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he’s “not certain yet” on what Trump wants.
  4. Tampa's Lance McCullers shows killer instinct in pitching Astros to World Series


    HOUSTON — It felt like the beginning on Saturday night at Minute Maid Park, the arrival of a new force on the World Series stage. The Astros are back, for the first time in a dozen years, and they want to stay a while.

    Houston Astros starting pitcher Lance McCullers (43) throwing in the fifth inning of the game between the Houston Astros and the Tampa Bay Rays in Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, July 12, 2015.
  5. Jones: Where are the difference-makers on the Bucs defense?


    ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — They can't tackle. They can't cover. They can't pressure the quarterback, let alone sack him.

    Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor (5) scrambles past Bucs defensive tackle Clinton McDonald (98) during the first half. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]