Florida House resists changing commuter rail bill

AP News
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Posted: Dec 04, 2009 3:01 PM

The Florida House wrangled Friday over a proposal to create a commuter rail system in central Florida as a prelude to the bill's expected passage in that chamber Monday.

The situation, though, isn't as clear in the Senate, which twice before has defeated similar measures.

Supporters say the legislation must pass if Florida expects to have any chance of attracting $2.6 billion in federal stimulus money to build a high-speed rail system between Orlando and Tampa with a possible future link to Miami.

The Republican-dominated House knocked back a series of Democratic amendments, leaving the bill basically intact.

"As you could see through the amendatory process, it's a work product we plan on staying with," said Rep. Gary Aubuchon, a Cape Coral Republican sponsoring the legislation.

House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, said the House will take a vote Monday. The Senate then will take up the legislation.

"We don't have a vote tally in mind, I'll settle for approval," Aubuchon said.

Although at least one senator defected Thursday, Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, said he was confident his chamber had the votes to pass the legislation this time.

Gov. Charlie Crist, who has long embraced the benefits of stimulus dollars coming to Florida, said it would be "indefensible" for legislators to not pass a proposal that would boost the state's chances of getting help from the Obama administration to eventually build a high-speed system.

Florida is one of 24 states seeking $50 billion _ more than six times the $8 billion available. High-speed projects with links to commuter rail systems are expected to have a leg up in the competition for the stimulus money.

But questions remained Friday in the House over issues such as per-rider costs, state liability resulting from rail accidents and the cost of buying 61 miles of existing rail for the commuter line between Poinciana and DeLand in central Florida.

The proposal would also include a $15 million annual state subsidy for financially troubled Tri-Rail commuter system in South Florida.

"We want the best balance for our taxpayer dollars," Aubuchon said. "So there is a balance between the two."