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 …
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.