Wednesday, September 19, 2018
Opinion

Ruth: The governor’s conversion from rail opponent to supporter

Might we assume Gov. Rick Scott had a transit epiphany as he flew home to his Naples mansion and looked down at the traffic jams from his private plane?

More than seven years ago, the newbie governor was aghast at President Barack Obama’s proposal to use his socialist-influenced dictatorial powers to give Florida $2.4 billion to build high-speed rail between Orlando and Tampa.

The project would have provided thousands of jobs, started easing the carbon cholesterol choke-hold of the I-4 corridor and enhanced the movement of tourists. Oh, the Washington tyranny of it all!

Scott said, no, a thousand times, no, indeed 2.4 billion times no. He denounced the high-speed rail proposal as a waste of money with no prospects of creating economic growth.

Had there been a slight detour to route the rail line through The Villages, Scott might have regarded this as a vital public works project akin to the Tennessee Valley Authority. But we digress.

Alas, it appears the governor has mellowed on high-speed rail. He now thinks linking Tampa and Orlando by train is the cat’s pajamas.

In June, Scott declared he was excited about a proposal to build a rail line between Tampa and Orlando that was submitted by Brightline, which was previously known as All Aboard Florida. The company began operating train service this year between West Palm Beach and Miami.

Scott hailed the Tampa-Orlando link as an "exciting" opportunity for the private sector to invest in the project. It is an "exciting" opportunity, especially for Scott and his wife.

As the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau’s Mary Ellen Klas has reported, last year the couple invested at least $3 million in a credit fund whose parent company is also Brightline’s parent company. And in 2017 alone, the investment produced at least $150,000 in income to the governor’s family.

We only really know about the Scott family’s investment because the governor is running for the U.S. Senate, which requires investments to be listed in federal financial disclosure forms. But the exact amount of the investment remains somewhat hazy.

Still, Klas noted two of Ann Scott’s three holdings in the credit fund were reported as "over $1 million." The governor’s disclosure shows his blind trust holds between $500,000 and $1 million in the credit fund.

A minion for Scott’s Senate campaign tut-tutted, noting the governor never, ever discusses investments with his wife since all his assets have been placed in a blind trust managed by an independent third party. Whew! Nothing to worry about here.

But it is amazing that the governor’s blind trust investments sometimes mirror his wife’s investments.

So how did Scott evolve from a governor who regarded the Obama administration’s offer of $2.4 billion in federal funds to build a bullet train between Tampa and Orlando as a boondoggle-in-waiting to now embracing the idea as a stroke of genius?

Timing is everything. And Adam Hollingsworth, who served on Scott’s transition team and vetted the candidates to become transportation secretary, once worked as an executive at another firm owned by All Aboard Florida.

It is possible Scott is as pure as a baby’s breath. But the optics of some Tallahassee home cooking are bad. Will the Tampa-Orlando bullet train have a smoke-filled club car?

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