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The boos for Gov. Rick Scott are loud, but hardly unanimous

To recap the criticism of recent days: Our new governor is, let's see, an idiot, an ideologue, a reactionary, a Luddite, a fool and a raving lunatic.

All of this because Rick Scott rejected $2.4 billion in "free" and "federal" money to build high-speed rail between Tampa and Orlando.

Apparently this is just not done. Democrats and some Republicans among Florida's elected class immediately set out to do an end run around Scott to get the dough anyway.

Now look, I am as much a train-lovin', money-blowin' guy as anybody.

But the boo-bird chorus was way over the top, and there are plenty of Floridians who didn't get quoted last week who are content with Scott's decision. Neither are they all idiots, ideologues, reactionaries, Luddites, fools and raving lunatics.

In short, let's rule that the issue is Debatable.

In the first place, the money is not "free," and it is not "federal." This is an obvious fact but we have long since pretended to forget it.

Two-thirds of it, on average, the government has taken out of somebody's pocket. The other third comes out of thin air — that is, we borrow it.

Yeah, yeah, I know.

If they're giving away "federal" money anyway, and we don't take it, then somebody else will. So we would be fools not to take "our share." California will take it instead.

That is a fine argument. It will be a major theme in that future bestseller, The Decline and Fall of the United States.

And, yeah, yeah, I know. We also would be idiots not to take the money because it "creates jobs." Doesn't the governor know that unemployment is 12 percent?

As for how many in that 12 percent would be hired, as to how much of the money would really end up in the hands of contractors outside Florida, as to whether the government even "creates" jobs in the first place, rather than taking them from someplace else, well, who knows?

How about it being a good economic stimulus? Nah.

My economics profs taught me that real stimulus, in the Keynesian sense, involves a targeted short-term infusion of government spending for a targeted result. Extending unemployment benefits, a fine example. Even just handing out cash to folks, like we did under President George W. Bush, that works, too. Hiring millions of people for a quick paycheck, as in the New Deal, that qualifies. But there's a difference between true, immediate and widespread stimulus and massive government spending for the sake of spending.

Now, putting aside these grand philosophical questions, we might next ask:

Is it a good idea?

You tell me. A 90-mile "high-speed" train between Tampa and Orlando? More of a local, really. This ain't Paris to Berlin, nor the Orient Express. It's a trip that takes an hour to an hour and a half by car, depending on where you're going and how lousy I-4 is.

The governor pointed out the thing would (1) almost certainly cost more than they say it would and (2) not get as many riders as they say it would. Seems like a pretty safe prediction.

Personally, I'm most susceptible to the Grand National Vision argument and the Intangible Benefits argument.

I sure don't want to be the guy standing in the way of a Grand National Vision. And, as for those intangibles, it would be neat to be on the cutting edge. Maybe it would give our region extra mojo.

But really, Tampa to Orlando was chosen less because of Grand National Vision and more because it was easy, because the route is more or less in place, and because the president needed to be able to point to something. The feds were downright desperate, in fact, and kept coming back to Florida to dump more money on us.

Well! Maybe they'll figure out a way to build it anyway. I'm just pointin' out that not everybody thinks Scott made the stupidest decision of all time — maybe not even most people in Florida.

Besides, I suspect he's just getting warmed up.

The boos for Gov. Rick Scott are loud, but hardly unanimous 02/19/11 [Last modified: Sunday, February 20, 2011 3:02pm]
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