Florida House passes rail bill 84-25

By Steve Bousquet, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Published Monday, December 7, 2009

At the start of the second week of a two-week special session, the Florida House voted 84-25 today for sweeping rail legislation. The bill allows creation of the SunRail commuter line in central Florida, adds a new permanent money source for the debt-ridden Tri-Rail system in South Florida and accelerates construction of a multi-billion-dollar high-speed rail system linking Miami, Tampa and Orlando.

Supporters praised the legislation as visionary and long overdue to connect the major urban areas of the nation's fourth-largest state. Bill sponsor Rep. Gary Aubuchon, R-Cape Coral, defended the fiscal soundness of the projects and said Florida is long overdue for adopting comprehensive rail policy.

"If we don't fix it now, when?" Aubuchon said, citing the federal government's willingness to contribute $3 for each state dollar for SunRail. He cited a letter in which the federal government threatens to demand return of more than $250 million if the state doesn't provide an operating subsidy for Tri-Rail. "This is about transforming Florida's future."

Critics faulted the bill as hastily-drawn, for giving too much control over rail construction to the state's transportation bureaucracy and for failing to ensure that Florida residents will be given first priority for new jobs. "Not illegal immigrants, not Texans, not green card workers, but Floridians," said Rep. Adam Fetterman, D-Port St. Lucie, an opponent.

St. Petersburg Democrat Bill Heller was among the no votes.

The bill now heads to the 40-member Senate where passage is uncertain. The 14-member Senate Democratic Caucus has scheduled a meeting at noon today to discuss whether to support the bill. Later, the Senate Transportation Committee will take up the legislation — the first of three Senate committees scheduled to analyze the bill in a 24-hour span.

How they voted

Here is how Tampa Bay area members of the Florida House voted Monday on HB 1B creating new rail projects.

Yes: Ambler, R-Tampa; Anderson, R-Dunedin; Burgin, R-Tampa; Frishe, R-St. Petersburg; Galvano, R-Bradenton; Glorioso, R-Plant City; Homan, R-Tampa; Hooper, R-Clearwater; Legg, R-Port Richey; Long, D-Seminole; McKeel, R-Lakeland; Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs; Reagan, R-Bradenton; Rouson, D-St. Petersburg; Schenck, R-Spring Hill; Schultz, R-Homosassa; Scionti, D-Tampa; Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel

No: Heller, D-St. Petersburg

Did not vote: Culp, R-Tampa; Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg


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