Monday, February 21, 2011

Blessing or Boondoggle - Scott Sacks High Speed Rail

Dr. E. Eugene Webb

The bleating hearts of wounded politicians have begun to cry like wolves howling at the moon. At a time when every one of their governments, Tampa, Orland and Miami are in serious economic trouble they want to focus the ire on Governor’ Scotts decision to pass on High Speed Rail. The hype concocted to sell this massive project is staggering. The Mayor of Tampa is accusing Scott of being just short of a traitor and politicians from Washington to Tampa are expressing disbelief and shock. The problem is none of these people every stopped to take a serious look at the big picture.

The ridership figures are flawed. The cost is likely way understated, the promise of the private sector picking up cost overruns and operating shortfalls cannot be guaranteed. The contracts will be full of outs and in the long run the private sector can just walk and the Florida tax payer is still stuck with the bill.
“We were hoping the process could go forward with the private sector,” said Barney Bishop III, president and chief executive officer of Associated Industries. “The problem is that ridership numbers are always optimistic and construction numbers are minimized so it ends up costing more. The governor is not looking at any more liabilities for Florida taxpayers, and we understand where he’s coming from. Economically and fiscally, that has to be a superior reason to anything else.”
It takes a lot of courage to standup and make a decision that on the surface flies in the face of logic. But the fact is there is not enough critical thinking in Government. No serious unbiased business case planning. Once a pile of money is in site all reason flies out the window. Get the money - get the money. There is not and never was a solid business case for high speed rail. Not here not in Wisconsin or Ohio. A few large companies, some consultants and contractors were going to get very rich and the rest of us would get the experience of watching an empty bullet terrain fly by us at 225mph as we drove to Orlando on a still crowed I-4. Would you really ride it? Core infrastructure that supports commerce and industry is the key to more Florida prosperity. The Mouse will due just fine bullet train or not.
Governor Scott is going to take a lot of heat over this one but he is right. We need to focus on the core infrastructure and not shiny things that cost a lot, go fast, cost taxpayers and arm and a leg and make politicians feel better. Scott’s political advisories are going to make hay over this one, casting him as the Villon. But in 7 to 10 years when the stories about states going broke supporting their high speed rail system with no riders begin to show up, Floridians may just be experiencing a good economy and reasonable taxes. Ya gotta hand it to the bald guy. He has some big ones.

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