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Wednesday's letters: Rail plan puts Florida taxpayers on the hook

Rail plan puts taxpayers on hook

You've probably sat in the bleachers before, the nosebleed section, where you're barely aware of what's going on. That's okay for sporting events, but it costs you dearly in Florida politics where special interests call the shots.

Last week our Legislature agreed to a $1.2 billion commuter rail startup by spending $641 million of our tax dollars for a rail corridor with an assessed value of $22 million, taking that property off the tax rolls, shifting liability for accidents from CSX to Floridians and saddling us with a financial liability for the ages.

Why? Reportedly, so 3,500 people — less than 2 percent of I-4 drivers — will get off the road. That was the first sales pitch. It then changed to transit-oriented development — don't we have enough vacant condos now? — and finally jobs, jobs, jobs … for the year 2030.

But there is no dedicated funding for annual operating deficits for this startup, SunRail, and only $40 million in federal money has been approved. Some $15 million in gas tax revenue will only partially fund Tri-Rail's $40 million-plus annual operating deficit.

And up in their mahogany bleachers was a mostly clueless Senate majority, oblivious to the details and costs, deciding all of this without considering the massive state budget deficit of $2.6 billion and the fact that Florida is borrowing $300 million per month from the feds to cover unemployment benefits, which, by the way, must be repaid.

Very real bills will be coming due and, with revenues declining, it becomes a game of robbing Peter to pay CSX. But the money will have to come from somewhere. That somewhere is you, the taxpayer, through increased fees, higher taxes, or even a state income tax.

If the Central Florida local governments choose to stay in the game, they must come down from the bleachers, understand the true costs and determine how their constituents and future generations will pay. The clock is ticking.

Beth Dillaha, city commissioner, Winter Park

Rail bill shortsighted | Dec. 14, editorial

Prudence is required in considering rail

This is a good editorial, particularly the last part: "Legislators eventually will have to revisit how and how much public money is set aside to ensure passenger rail service has a future in Florida."

That's an excellent observation, and a perfect example of why our local, state and federal governments find themselves in the current fiscal quagmire. How much a program will cost and how it will be funded going forward should be the first step in any government spending consideration. Some solid data to validate the discussion in the first place should also be a prerequisite. Substantive data to support the rail concept has been oddly absent and not even broached by the media in this discussion.

Time and time again we've seen the negative results of the "build it and they will come" philosophy, and we should not expect a "build it and they will ride" philosophy to produce a different outcome.

This endeavor, beginning with the "sweetheart deal" to CSX, is far too costly for taxpayers to carry without a well thought-out and data-supported plan. And the transfer of liability to the wallets of taxpayers is completely unacceptable. Indeed, the exploration of the potential of high-speed, high-volume commuter and light-rail is long overdue in our state, counties and cities here in Florida. But we can ill-afford a "damn the torpedoes; full speed ahead" approach. Prudence is called for here.

Norm Roche, Clearwater

Rail plans

Let's take the train

It's about time the naysayers lost out to those in favor of a rail system that has been sadly needed for years.

Opponents cite cost. Had it been given the go-ahead 10 or more years ago, what would have been the cost compared to now? What would the cost be 10 years from now? Future population growth makes it more important to get it done as soon as possible.

In addition, it will create permanent jobs in addition to the construction jobs, as well as other economic benefits.

Naysayers, wake up!

Norman Elzeer, Largo

Rail is right for Florida | Dec. 7, commentary by Rep. Mike Fasano

Can we afford it?

Rail may well be right, but at what cost? The very least this Legislature should do for us is be honest and up front about the cost.

Think about this: Tri-Rail, a straight run from Palm Beach to Miami, is losing some $15 million a year. Tampa Bay is more like a spider web of locations. Hillsborough County wants to fund its part of this with a spike in sales tax of 1 cent for construction. How will they cover the shortfall when they discover it is losing money?

As voters and residents, we deserve the facts. Once you build this, you own it. The question is: Can we afford it?

Paul D. Gunson, Clearwater

Rail is right for Florida | Dec. 7, commentary by Rep. Mike Fasano

Comfortable conveyance

Mike Fasano is right. Florida would benefit greatly from a rail system.

The experience of traveling a long distance in other countries convinced me of the comfort and ease of train travel. You can walk around, lie down, eat, enjoy scenery, etc., with no worry of a traffic jam. Speed and comfort are best achieved on trains, not in cars or buses.

Nadine Duke, Oldsmar

Honoring ancestors | Dec. 14, letter

A cause without honor

In response to the letter writer's assertion that having a Sons of the Confederacy license plate merely honors their ancestors since "the majority of Southern men being forced to fight were poor farmers (who owned) no slaves," I wonder if she feels the same way about Germans flying the Nazi swastika.

I am quite sure that the majority of German soldiers during World War II had nothing against Jews and other minorities, but were drafted to fight by their government. However, the current German government (unlike our own), makes flying the swastika a crime!

I am sorry, but I do not feel that anyone has the right to "honor" a flag that stood for the degradation of a race of people, be it the swastika or the "Stars and Bars."

Ronald Medvin, Tampa

Wednesday's letters: Rail plan puts Florida taxpayers on the hook

12/15/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 15, 2009 6:29pm]
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