Rick Scott, Nixing High-Speed Rail, Cedes Talent and Economic Benefit to the Muslim World
A man so proud of his state would likely want to make decisions that would put his constituents on track to build more, work harder, and attract more visitors than the rest of the world. Maybe even cut their dependency on the oil exports that fuel somebody else's government, far away. So it's a bit of a shock that his unilateral decision to reject $2.4 billion in federal money for a high-speed rail line has resulted in a top transportation official leaving Florida... for the oil-rich Arab nation of Qatar.
That's right, the country with the highest GDP per capita in the world, and gas prices that are hovering around a buck a gallon, is building a high-speed rail network. And they're doing it with one of our own at the helm: Nazih Haddad, the former high-speed rail chief at the Florida Department of Transportation, is taking a job with the Qatari government to oversee the project, a $26 billion combination of light rail and high-speed rail that is slated to be in place for the 2022 World Cup.
Think about that. That is 11 years from now. And the project will cost ten times as much as the mostly federal-funded rail line in Florida would have. What does Rick Scott have planned for 11 years from now? And hosting a world-class event might just bring us closer to being "the greatest state in the nation," as Scott calls it. Fact is, the Florida Department of Transportation might not exist by then, as Scott's transition team recommended consolidating it, along with the environmental and growth management bureaus, into a "Department of Growth Leadership." He has not appointed anyone to head the Department of Transportation, although a commission recommended three people on February 11.
Haddad told the St. Petersburg Times that he received the offer from Qatar months ago, but was reluctant to accept it while the prospect of a high-speed rail project in Florida seemed possible. Now, of course, that's not an issue -- Gov. Scott has nixed the plans for good, saying that taxpayers would be on the hook for a portion of the project not covered by federal funds. He cited a single study, by a libertarian organization affiliated with the Koch brothers, that questioned whether the line would have enough riders. A state-sponsored study that he neglected to mention found that the line would have made money for the state from the beginning.
But now, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has announced that he will be relocating Florida's spurned money to other states eager for high-speed rail projects. And while Florida trips over itself trying to host another Super Bowl, Qatar should have a hell of a World Cup in 2022.
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