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BUSH, GALLAGHER JOIN FORCES TO DERAIL BULLET TRAIN

March 4, 2004
Source: Florida Department of Financial Services

High cost, questionable ridership and negative impact on current state transportation needs cause for alarm

TALLAHASSEE—Citing concerns with skyrocketing costs and shaky ridership projections, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Tom Gallagher today offered his support for a petition drive and a joint legislative resolution to repeal a constitutional amendment passed in 2000 to create a high-speed rail in Florida. Gallagher also announced he would be serving as chairman of Derail the Bullet Train (DEBT), a committee originally formed by Palm Beach County leaders to help educate Floridians on the costs and potential impacts of the high-speed rail project and spearhead a citizen petition drive to repeal the amendment.

“As CFO, I have a constitutional responsibility to evaluate the financial soundness and accountability of state projects, including a high-speed rail,” said Gallagher. “After evaluating recent reports and the potential impact on the state's treasury, I believe implementing a project of this magnitude will come at a great cost to Florida taxpayers and negatively impact the current and ongoing transportation needs of our state.”

“Since the amendment passed we’ve developed a more realistic view of what the project will do ‘for’ the state and most importantly what it will do ‘to’ the state,” said Governor Jeb Bush. “Taxpayers will bear the burden and it will come at the expense of state priorities. Not only will it affect other transportation projects but it will also impact state funding for other priorities.”

A report issued by the Florida High Speed Rail Authority in January 2002 revealed that projected costs 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 are now estimated to be $2.6 billion to build the first rail segment.

In addition, the Florida Transportation Commission in February issued a resolution showing the proposed rail will not alleviate traffic congestion in and around the I-4 corridor and the money needed to fund the high speed rail will largely be drawn from the state’s transportation program, putting more than half of current and ongoing transportation projects on hold.

“With no guarantee of federal funding and a lack of funding from the private sector, Florida taxpayers are facing a $150 million price tag annually for the next 30 years just to build the first rail segment,” said Gallagher.

Also joining Governor Bush and CFO Gallagher at the press conference to echo concerns were Lt. Governor Toni Jennings, Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Jose Abreu and Palm Beach County Commissioner Burt Aaronson.

“In the absence of major federal funding to fund the high speed rail, the state's traveling public will suffer from the failure to implement critical transportation projects totaling more than $17 billion over the next 35 years,” said DOT Secretary Abreu.

State lawmakers would need a two-thirds majority to place a constitutional amendment to repeal the high-speed rail on the 2004 ballot.

CFO Gallagher also encouraged state lawmakers to consider other financial ramifications. “Florida is nearing our legislatively-mandated debt limit,” said CFO Gallagher. “Taking on substantially great debt to finance the high-speed rail could negatively impact the state's financial standing and put our current bond rating at risk.”

Absent any action by the Legislature, CFO Gallagher will continue to support a citizen petition drive to collect enough signatures to get an amendment to repeal the rail on the November ballot. Gallagher will be building on the success and grassroots efforts of DEBT in Palm Beach County, originally formed by Senator Ron Klein, County Commissioner Burt Aaronson and local community leader David Goodstein.