FL: Taxpayer-Funded Rail Becomes a Toxic Concept in District 18 Congressional Race

Aug. 13--All Aboard Florida has become such a hot issue in the District 18 congressional race that some candidates vying for the Republican nomination have brought past rail projects into the controversy.

With all six candidates in the Aug. 26 primary touting themselves as the most fiscally conservative choice to beat Democratic incumbent Rep. Patrick Murphy in the Nov. 4 election, taxpayer-funded rail is a toxic concept.

Former state Rep. Carl Domino, the best-funded Republican and likely front-runner, is the target of recent attacks in ads, at forums and on a website that highlights his votes for SunRail, which connects Orlando to Volusia County, and the now-dead proposal for Tampa-Orlando bullet trains. Gov. Rick Scott killed the project when he took office in 2011.

Then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist pushed for both projects, and Domino's opponents say his support for the now-Democratic gubernatorial candidate's agenda five years ago is an issue today.

ATTACK ADS

Candidate Calvin Turnquest released a flier that claims Domino's vote for the bullet trains, which would have been funded with federal stimulus money, means he is not a conservative.

Candidate Beverly Hires has been the most vocal about Domino's previous support of rail. Her yard signs and website -- www.meetconductorcarl.com -- highlight his SunRail vote.

Domino said he opposes the private All Aboard project because it is different from the public SunRail and bullet train projects.

"(SunRail) wasn't a private company getting $1.5 billion," said Domino of the proposed taxpayer funding for All Aboard.

Domino voted for the 2009 "SunRail Bill" that granted $641 million in state funds to CSX Inc. to use 61 miles of its tracks along Interstate 4 for passenger trains, making it public infrastructure.

If SunRail fails, taxpayers could be at risk of a costly bailout, said Hires' campaign manager, Rollin Reisinger. Low ridership has caused rail projects nationwide to lose money, require subsidies, increase fares and reduce train and bus services, he said.

The state will cover any SunRail operating losses for the first seven years, then local governments will foot the bill after that. After less than one year in operation it is too early to tell, but with 4,259 daily boardings SunRail is close to reaching its 4,300 goal, according to Florida Department of Transportation spokesman Steve Olson.

PUBLIC VS. PRIVATE

All Aboard, which would run between Miami and Orlando, is a private venture, its business plans aren't public and local governments have no oversight -- yet the company wants taxpayer dollars to go toward the project.

The company has applied for a $1.5 billion federal loan and could benefit from the state's $213 million investment in an Orlando International Airport transportation hub, where it will lease land. The Orlando Airport Authority would repay the state for money used for All Aboard. The company also plans to ask for another $44 million in state grants to connect service to Tri-Rail in South Florida, according to a Scripps/Tribune investigation.

Unlike SunRail, All Aboard faces vehement opposition from Treasure Coast residents. Critics say local communities would not benefit financially from 32 daily trains cutting through neighborhoods nonstop, but might have to pay to make railroad crossing improvements. Also, the noise and road/bridge closures are a quality-of-life issue.

Copyright 2014 - Treasure Coast Newspapers, Stuart, Fla.

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