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U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown overstates Florida high-speed rail job figures

TALLAHASSEE — Critics of Gov. Rick Scott's refusal of $2.4 billion in federal money for high-speed rail often knock his decision for its apparent hypocrisy: Shutting down the project will cost tens of thousands of jobs, they say, a move that goes against the governor's oft-referenced No. 1 priority.

One pro-rail member of Congress, Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, put the jobs estimate higher than any projection we've seen — about three times as high.

"We are going to continue to work for those 60,000-plus jobs for Floridians," Brown told Orlando's WESH-TV shortly after Scott announced his intent to reject the money on Feb. 16. "With unemployment at 12 percent, we've just got to work this out for the people of Florida."

Brown made the 60,000-jobs claim in several news releases, and repeated the figure Tuesday in comments from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Is Scott turning his back on 60,000 jobs — a little less than 10 percent of the 700,000 jobs he promised to create — by nixing the Tampa-to-Orlando high-speed rail line?

To find out, we turned to the Florida Department of Transportation, which has managed the state's high-speed rail plan since 1991.

The department's application for federal rail money included predicted economic benefits to the Tampa-Orlando corridor, including the creation of 23,600 direct jobs, like construction and design, and 26,300 indirect jobs, like those created for equipment suppliers.

The state calculated these jobs in something called "job-years," which refers to the number of jobs that will be funded each year.

Job-years are not how you'd probably think of a job. So let us explain.

In the first year of rail construction, 2011, the state estimated the project would require a total of 2,100 construction workers and 700 workers providing engineering services. Another 3,400 spin­off workers would be created in the first year, the state estimated. That's a total of 6,200 jobs.

Construction would then ramp up in 2012 — ballooning the work force from 6,200 to 21,600, an increase of 15,400 workers.

On the surface, most people would say the rail project created jobs for 21,600 people, some having a job for one year, others having a job for two. But in "job-years," the actual number is 27,800. Here's how the state comes up that: Officials start with the 6,200 jobs from 2011, then add the 21,600 jobs from 2012.

The number of jobs created in the final two years of construction decreases. In 2013, a total of 18,900 direct and indirect jobs would be needed to service the construction of the rail line. In 2014, the number drops to 2,100.

A report by the Central Florida Partnership, an Orlando-area economic development group, explained it more bluntly: Peak rail employment would occur between fall 2012-14 and require about 10,000 workers. That excludes indirect jobs.

The state said it will create 600 permanent jobs to operate the 84-mile line and 500 permanent spin­off jobs.

In the most optimistic terms, that's 49,900 "job-years" created over a five-year window, including 1,100 permanent jobs.

That's short of 60,000 — the figure cited by Brown — and that's without even factoring in the jobs vs. job-years part of the claim. Really, the best way to look at the rail project is to say that it would employ directly or indirectly 6,200 workers in 2011, 21,600 workers in 2012, 18,900 workers in 2013, 2,100 workers in 2014 and then 1,100 workers thereafter. But to count job-years, the state is adding each year's job count to one big number: 49,900.

David Simon, a spokesman for Brown, said he has seen different job numbers for the rail project, and was not sure where Brown got her 60,000-job figure. He thinks it may be from the state, but noted that the state's high-speed rail website has been taken down and is no longer accessible.

Whatever the number, he said, people should be asking Scott why he wants to kill the jobs created by the high-speed rail project.

Maybe so. But we're here simply to examine Brown's numbers.

In the media, in press releases, and on Capitol Hill, Brown said the Tampa-to-Orlando high-speed rail project would create 60,000 jobs. That number is too high. In reality, the project would create construction and construction spinoff jobs for parts of four years. The number of the jobs varies depending on the year of construction, but peaks at a total of 21,600 jobs in the second year of work. Once the high-speed rail line is operational, the state anticipates the creation of 1,100 permanent direct and indirect jobs.

Yes, the project creates jobs. But not to the extent Brown suggests. We rate this claim False.

Aaron Sharockman contributed to this report. Katie Sanders can be reached at ksanders@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

The statement

The high-speed rail project would create "60,000-plus jobs for Floridians."

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, in comments to an Orlando TV station.

The ruling

Brown confuses jobs with "job-years," which is a different measure that inflates true job creation. We rate this claim False.

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown overstates Florida high-speed rail job figures 03/02/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 2, 2011 11:12pm]
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