Alarmed by the determination of some Republican leaders to push ahead with the controversial $1.6 billion CSX deal despite Florida’s increasing job losses, Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson (D-Tallahassee) and incoming Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich (D-Weston) on Monday called on the legislature to reverse course on the project and return the money to whence it came.
“More than $600 million was siphoned from shovel-ready transportation and infrastructure projects in towns and communities thoughout Florida in order to deliver a sweetheart deal to a multi-billion dollar private company championing a train even Mickey Mouse can’t use,” said Senator Lawson. “This money needs to be returned to the districts to immediately begin those road and infrastructure projects derailed by the CSX deal. And the money needs to be used to offset skyrocketing hikes in “fees” Floridians are facing for basic motor vehicle services.”
The Democrats’ alternative plan is twofold. It calls for slamming the brakes on the $159 million Republicans are proposing to raise on title renewals, drivers’ licenses and ID cards, and registration fees to offset the state’s budget hole. And it advocates using the remaining amount, more than $480 million to launch the many transportation and infrastructure projects throughout Florida indefinitely delayed by the state Department of Transportation as it quietly diverted the money to obscure accounts earmarked for CSX.
“This money was railroaded out of the state’s general revenue fund four years ago,” said Senator Rich, noting the disingenious arguments by some lawmakers that trust fund dollars earmarked for transportation couldn’t be directed away from the CSX project. “Other than a private corporation with well paid lobbyists, there is nothing in law or the constitution to stop this
legislature from returning the money to where it found it. If it found the will to divert the funds from the districts in the first place, it can find the will to return the dollars to Florida’s communities to fund the rebuilding of our infrastructure and create jobs.”
The call by the Democrats comes as Florida, along with the rest of nation, continues to reel from the latest unemployment numbers. Nationally, the unemployment rate rose to a 26-year high of 8.5%, with 660,000 Americans losing their jobs in March alone.
Florida’s latest job losses are expected to be disclosed April 17th. In February, however, the state unemployment rate stood at a staggering 9.4 percent.
“Subsidizing a private railroad corporation on the backs of our motorists and those desperately seeking jobs is unconscionable,” said Senator Lawson. “With almost one million Floridians out of work and the number rising, let them explain to the people whose money they’re spending, just what’s more important? New jobs or a choo choo to nowhere?”
A summary of the Senate Democratic Leaders’ proposal follows.
The Senate Democratic Leaders’ Proposal calls for a halt to committing the $641 million dedicated to CSX, and redirecting those dollars to:
A) Local transportation work projects statewide previously deferred by DOT which could include:
· Lee County: Adding lanes to I-75 - $29.9 million
· Collier County: Adding lanes to SR 84 - $29.7 million
· Orange County: Widen Turnpike - $62.6 million
· Duval County: SR 212 Lane Addition - $20 million
· Madison County: County Roads, Resurfacing - $3 million
B) Reversing the proposal (PCS/SB1778) to increase by $159 million fees on Florida motorists for certain services. These are:
Proposed Increase Fees on Floridians
Motor Vehicle Registration Fees: from $1 to $5 $60,681,793
Original or Duplicate Titles: from $24.00 to $40.00 $57,452,666
Driver’s License/ID Cards variable, pending legislation $41,138,456