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How they voted, Part 6: the bad CSX deal

Sixth in a series of columns on key votes taken by the Florida Legislature since the last election.

In one of the more bizarre spectacles of the last two years, our Legislature held a special session last December to ram through a bill for …

Commuter rail.

Commuter rail!

What, did the Legislature suddenly get all socialist and progressive? Did it start wearing sandals and sipping cappuccino? Did it go green?

Of course not. The whole thing was a gargantuan payoff to the CSX Corp., a wickedly horrible deal.

The Legislature voted to:

• Buy 61.5 miles of CSX's track in Central Florida, even though it didn't have to buy it, since the railroad would have to allow its use anyway.

• Pay hundreds of millions to improve CSX's system. The total of $641 million works out to $10.5 million a mile — nearly 10 times as much as some states have paid.

• Have the taxpayers take over CSX's legal liability along the line, even for accidents that are the railroad's fault.

• Give CSX the ability to increase its freight traffic dramatically on another route.

"The state of Florida has cut a terrible deal," says state Sen. Paula Dockery, a Republican from Lakeland, who led the opposition.

The deal had failed twice before, but its backers were persistent. They bought off the opposition — trial lawyers, labor unions — one by one. They threw in a bribe for South Florida, a subsidy for trains down there. They paid enough lip service to bring along the true rail buffs.

What the heck, it worked.

The Senate passed the bill 27-10; the House passed it 84-25, although a few members switched afterward.

Many legislators did not know the details of what they were voting on. At one point Dockery single-handedly faced down a whole committee, wielding fact after fact. Finally, one exasperated colleague replied lamely: "Any proposed business arrangement has its pros and cons."

Dockery was joined by Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Brandon. She is better known for social issues, but she knows a boondoggle when she sees one.

As a footnote, the state knew beforehand that the deal might be fatally flawed, because Amtrak — which has to agree — had already objected. Amtrak still objects, and the deal is on hold.

Pros and cons, indeed.

Tampa Bay area senators voting for the CSX deal:

Victor Crist, R-Tampa; Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey; Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island.

Senators voting no:

Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland; Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa; Charlie Justice, D-St. Petersburg; Ronda Storms, R-Brandon.

House members voting yes:

Kevin Ambler, R-Tampa; Tom Anderson, R-Dunedin; Rachel Burgin, R-Tampa; Faye Culp, R-Tampa; Jim Frishe, R-Belleair Bluffs; Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton; Rich Glorioso, R-Plant City; Ed Homan, R-Tampa; Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater; John Legg, R-New Port Richey; Janet Long, D-Seminole; Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland; Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs; Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton; Betty Reed, D-Tampa; Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg; Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill; Ron Schultz, R-Homosassa; then-Rep. Mike Scionti, D-Tampa; Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

House members voting no:

Bill Heller, D-St. Petersburg; Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg.

How they voted, Part 6: the bad CSX deal 09/29/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 29, 2010 10:04pm]
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