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Gallagher Joins Key Legislators to Derail Bullet Train

3/9/2004

CONTACT: Tami Torres
(850) 413-2842

TALLAHASSEE- Florida's Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher today joined forces with key legislative leaders to derail the bullet train, including House Speaker Designate Allen Bense, Senate Democratic Leader Ron Klein, and Representative Bob Allen. Representatives Dennis Baxley, Fred Brummer, Carl Domino, Andy Gardiner, Gayle Harrell, Ron Reagan, and David Rivera, and Senators Charlie Clary and Rudy Garcia also threw their support behind the effort. State Department of Transportation Secretary Jose Abreu was also present.

Last week, CFO Gallagher teamed up with Governor Bush to support both a legislative and grassroots effort to give Floridians the opportunity to repeal a high-speed rail. Over the next 51 days, Bush, Gallagher and state lawmakers will pursue passage of a joint legislative resolution to place a constitutional amendment on the 2004 ballot repealing the high-speed rail initiative. Lawmakers need a three-fifths supermajority to place the amendment on the ballot.

"I applaud the leadership of lawmakers standing with me today who are also gravely concerned with the multi-billion dollar price tag associated with building a high-speed rail - a cost that will fall directly in the laps of Florida taxpayers," said CFO Gallagher. "In the face of mounting evidence, diverting billions of taxpayer dollars to implement a high-speed rail is simply unconscionable."

"People aren't having trouble getting from Miami to Orlando. They are having trouble with traffic congestion while they are in Miami and while they are in Orlando," said Sen. Klein. "These funds should be focused on regional transportation solutions that we need to improve the day-to-day lives of our residents."

"Florida taxpayers were sold a false bill of goods," said Rep. Allen, who is sponsoring the joint resolution. "We were all told about this utopian transportation system, but never of its cost."

"I have serious concerns that taxpayers are being asked to pay for a project that should be largely funded by the private sector," said Rep. Bense.

A report issued by the Florida High Speed Rail Authority in January 2002 estimated that the cost to build the first 80-mile rail segment between Tampa and Orlando would be between $1.2 billion and $1.8 billion. In January of this year, the Authority reported that the costs have more than doubled to an estimated $2.6 billion.

In November 2002, the High Speed Rail Authority conducted a ridership study and subsequently commissioned a Peer Review Panel to perform an independent assessment of the study. Upon conclusion of its assessment, the panel did not endorse the ridership study citing questionable ridership projections, negligible time savings for travelers and lack of flexibility in transportation once arriving at the station.

"The lack of endorsement by the Peer Review Panel raises serious doubts that the state can secure financing from the investment community backed solely by ridership revenue," said Rep. Gardiner, who chairs the Transportation Systems Subcommittee. "Without a sound investment grade report, the state will have no choice but to back financing of the project with state funding."

According to the High Speed Rail Authority, with no guarantee of federal funding and a lack of funding from the private sector, Florida taxpayers are facing at least a $140 million price tag annually for the next 30 years just to build the first rail segment.

"Implementing a project of this magnitude will come at a great cost to Florida taxpayers and could negatively impact the current and ongoing transportation needs of our state," said Sen. Garcia. "There is simply not enough room in the state's transportation budget to implement both a high-speed rail and long-standing and critical transportation projects."

"Building just the first phase means that Floridians will do without highway and roadway improvements such as those planned for the Palmetto Expressway in Miami, I-75 in Lee County, US 19 in Pinellas County, SR 520 in Orlando, I-95 in Brevard County, Butler Boulevard in Jacksonville, and US 331 in Walton County," said Secretary Abreu. "These are transportation projects with known benefits. High-speed rail is an unknown."

Other sample projects in the state department of Transportation's Five-Year Work Program that would be in jeopardy if high-speed rail is implemented are attached.

"High-speed rail would focus our transportation funding on a losing proposition," said Rep. Reagan, who recently learned from the California High Speed Rail Authority that their state's rail project is now running 50 percent higher than the original bid price. "Florida cannot afford to misuse any of our transportation dollars."

Absent any action by the Legislature, CFO Gallagher will push for a citizen petition drive to collect more than 489,000 signatures to get an amendment to repeal the rail on the November ballot. To accomplish this, Gallagher is chairing the Derail the Bullet Train (DEBT) Committee - a committee formed to educate Floridians on the escalating costs and financial ramifications of building a high-speed rail with taxpayer dollars.

In response to inquiries from interested citizens, DEBT launched a website last Friday - www.debtpetition.com - where citizens can download a petition form to support repeal of the high-speed rail.