TAMPA — Democrats, Republicans, business and labor leaders, and environmentalists came together Tuesday to launch a campaign to bring federal stimulus money to Florida to pay for high-speed rail.
President Barack Obama is expected to announce in the coming weeks how he'll divide $8 billion designated for such projects throughout the country.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said he believes this state will get some, if not all, of the $2.5 billion that transportation officials requested to build a line between Tampa and Orlando, with plans to extend it to Miami and Jacksonville.
"I personally think the decision has already been made, and I think it's going to be favorable to us," Nelson said during the campaign kickoff at Union Station in Tampa. No one, including U.S. Transportation Secretary Roy LaHood, has offered any confirmation, but Nelson said he sees signs.
Nevertheless, rail boosters want Floridians to call the White House to show their support for the project.
ConnectUs, a grass roots organization led by former Hillsborough County Commissioner Ed Turanchik, is paying for TV ads that urge viewers to text "Jobs" to 24453. That prompts a reply text message with the phone number to the White House.
"Please tell the president today we need the jobs," Turanchik said.
Rail supporters estimate the project will bring 23,000 jobs to Florida over the next four years and create 600 permanent jobs once the line is running.
U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, pointed out that Florida's unemployment rate tops the national average, the state has the second highest foreclosure rate, and the number of families on food stamps has doubled.
Laurie Mcdonald, Florida director of the Defenders of Wildlife, told the crowd of about 50 people that rail saves energy, reduces pollution and encourages development that protects open spaces for wildlife and agriculture.
Mark Wilson, president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and Robert Ray, president of the West Central Florida Federation of Labor, stood side by side during the event.
Ray referred to the chamber as "our friends."
"We do have things in common," he said, and one of those things is an interest in creating "jobs, jobs, jobs."
To show that the project has bipartisan support, Turanchik read statements of support from Gov. Charlie Crist and Sen. George LeMieux, both Republicans.
"We're not always united up here politically," said Ronnie Duncan, chairman of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, "but what we're talking about here today is not just a partisan issue. It's an all of us issue."