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White House Looking For Ways To Bypass Governor Who Rejected Funds For High-Speed Rail

First Posted: 02/17/11 12:35 PM ET Updated: 05/25/11 07:35 PM ET

Lahood High Speed Rail

WASHINGTON -- Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is expected to meet with Florida's congressional delegation Thursday afternoon in an effort to circumvent Gov. Rick's Scott's rejection of $2 billion in federal funds for a state high-speed rail project.

The meeting, which will take place on Capitol Hill and involve both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, will revolve around a discussion of "whether we can create an entity that can run high-speed rail in Florida and get the state out of the way," an administration official told The Huffington Post.

Previously, LaHood called members of the delegation Wednesday to discuss the matter. He's not without GOP support: Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has pushed Scott to reconsider the project, stressing that private business may be willing to help the state cover its $280-million piece of the costs.

Prospective solutions to the standoff aren't entirely clear, and the administration official said, "It's too soon at this point" for specifics. It's been suggested that the federal government could simply foot the entire bill for the project, rather than requiring Florida to put up matching funds. But if the administration shows a willingness to pick up the full tab, other governors could well follow Scott's script.

LaHood's trip to the Hill suggests that the Obama administration is not content to simply leave Florida out of its plans for a national high-speed rail system, but administration officials have offered some tough talk. On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters that the president was willing to spend the $2 billion intended for Florida on other states. Officials in New York, Washington and California quickly requested the money.

Now, however, the White House seems to be abandoning that bluff, perhaps because the bipartisan and home-state pressure on Scott to reverse course has been immense.

The governor talked with both LaHood and Mica on Wednesday to relay his decision. "This is a huge setback for the state of Florida, our transportation, economic development, and important tourism industry," Mica said in a statement. "I have urged the Governor to reconsider going forward and allow the private sector to assume the risk and any future costs for the project. ... With the federal government assuming 90% of the cost of the project, I am disappointed the private sector will not have an opportunity to even offer innovative proposals to help finance the balance of the costs and to construct and operate this system."

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