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bobliocatt

Fight Against Bullet Train Disingenuous

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By WILLIAM DUNN

Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher have launched a full-fledged disinformation campaign to discredit and defeat the Florida high-speed-rail project voted into our constitution in November 2000. Last week, e-mails and letters sent to Florida taxpayers asked for signed petitions in support of a reversal of the earlier constitutional mandate and solicited cash contributions.

I don't object to the repeal effort. It is the right of every citizen. But Bush and Gallagher, and all of our elected officials, have a moral and legal obligation to tell us the truth about this important issue.

Here's how they got it wrong:

Bush and Gallagher say it will cost $500 million per year to finance high-speed-rail service for Tampa-Orlando-Miami. The High Speed Rail Authority has requested $75 million per year for the first phase (Tampa-Orlando). The second phase (OrlandoMiami) will cost about twice as much as phase one, but it will produce eight times the number of riders and revenue, so state contributions for this phase will be very small or may not be required at all. We'll know more as we complete the planning for that route. The Bush-Gallagher position on annual state subsidy is overstated by nearly 700 percent.

Bush and Gallagher say the total development cost for the Tampa-Miami-Orlando route will be $17 billion. Gov. Bush has blocked the studies for the Orlando-to-Miami route so no one can be certain what it will cost, but a more honest estimate is $7 billion to $8 billion, which is less than half the Bush-Gallagher estimate. The Bush-Gallagher position on development cost is overstated by more than 200 percent.

Bush and Gallagher claim that high-speed rail is a luxury we can't afford and a project that will bankrupt the state. The project will likely be funded from the existing gas tax that is already being collected at the pump. Gov. Bush has just signed a budget that includes a "Gas Tax Holiday" that will cost $90 million in lost transportation revenue to the state.

Although this amount is greater than the $75 million that highspeed rail will need, Bush and Gallagher made no similar prediction about firing teachers, releasing inmates from state prisons or putting the state into bankruptcy as they did for highspeed rail.

For a typical Florida driver, the cost of high-speed rail amounts to about 50 cents per month out of the existing gas tax that is

already paid. Drivers are now paying a $30 per month premium for gas over the price they paid in December, and getting nothing in return. By comparison, the cost of high-speed rail is quite small. The Bush-Gallagher position on the financial impact of high-speed rail is a gross exaggeration and a distortion of the facts.

Bush and Gallagher believe high-speed rail will only serve tourists. Jeb Bush and Tom Gallagher don't even drive cars, so they would have no reason to know this, but every tourist whom we get off the road is a blessing to all of us, tourist and citizen alike. Tourists don't like being lost on our highways and we Floridians don't like dodging lost tourists.

The split between visitors and nonvisitors is about 50/50 systemwide depending on the route segment. Between the Orlando Airport and Disney, there are more visitors. For the rest of the system, there are more nonvisitors. Getting tourists off the road is a blessing to all (at least those of us who drive).

Bush and Gallagher predict that federal funding is not and will not be available for this project. History shows that federal funding is always available for major transportation projects, whether highway, airport, seaport or transit.

The reason that we currently have no federal funding commitment is that federal funding comes in the form of "matching funds." The way this works is that the state puts money on the table and the federal government matches it.

The state has to make a commitment before the federal government will even think about funding a project. It is manipulative and disingenuous for Bush and Gallagher to claim that there will be no federal support for the project when we have not taken the first important step to secure federal funds.

Tom Gallagher claims that "they" could attempt to impose a personal income tax in Florida (to pay for high-speed rail). No one in Florida other than Florida voters could impose a state income tax on Floridians, and we Floridians do not want an income tax.

We are particularly insistent that no politician, not Gov. Bush, not Tom Gallagher, not the Legislature and certainly not the Florida High Speed Rail Authority can impose an income tax on Floridians.

The nine-member High Speed Rail Authority was appointed by the state's conservative Republican leadership. Gov. Bush, the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House appointed three members each. Now, Bush and Gallagher would have the world believe that the authority is planning to take billions of dollars from our children's education, health care for seniors and other vital services to finance a frivolous folly.

In fact, the authority is willing to invest a small amount of money (less than 1.5 percent of the state transportation budget) to fund a statewide alternative mode of transportation that will benefit us now and become absolutely essential in future decades.

Here's the really good news: All of the money that Florida invests in high-speed rail will be refunded from project income over the next 35 years. High-speed rail will provide a needed service to Florida's taxpayers and visitors, and it is a wise investment.

William Dunn is a professional engineer whose involvement in highspeed rail began in the late 1980s as a senior vice president and director for Florida High Speed Rail Corporation. He has been a member of the Florida High Speed Rail Authority since its inception in 2001. E-mail: [email protected].

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