WASHINGTON -- Half a year after Florida Gov. Rick Scott rejected $2.4 billion in federal money to help build high-speed rail structures inside his state, the cash has been sent to other portions of the country.
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced on Tuesday that roughly $745 million of Florida's portion of high-speed rail money had been "obligated" toward upgrades on heavily used Amtrak lines in the Northeast Corridor -- $449.94 million alone will be spent on upgrading electrical systems and tracks between Trenton, N.J. and New York City; another $295.78 million will be spent on alleviating traffic congestion on those lines.
The remaining Florida funds will be spent throughout the country (not just in the more reliably Democratic northeast). Roughly $400 million is set to expand high-speed rail service in the Midwest; $336.2 million is set to be invested in state-of-the-art locomotives and rail cars for California and the Midwest; and another $300 million will be spent building the nation’s first 220 mph high-speed rail system in California. Those investments, however, have not yet been obligated, according to a Department of Transportation official. In addition, $400 million of Florida's high-speed rail funds has been rescinded by Congress.
That said, the issuance of the first chunk of Florida's money puts an end to a particularly illustrative chapter of the sometimes-disjointed nature of Tea Party politics. Scott was one of several newly elected Republican governors who made a show by turning down money for high-speed rail projects in his state. Beyond providing some fiscal conservative symbolism, however, the refusal of those funds did very little. The money was already allocated and destined to be spent. And many other Republican lawmakers were privately petitioning the Department for the help.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood hinted at as much during a sit down interview with The Huffington Post in early May.
“Even though we have had these little hiccups in three states,” he said, “when this system is done, Ohio will be connected, Florida will be connected, Wisconsin will be connected because this is what the people want. The people are way ahead of the elected officials on this.”
"I don’t even lose like one second of sleep over the fact that three states turned it down because we have given $13 billion out," he added. "I wasn’t saying this in jest. I really believe there is only one person in Florida who didn’t want high-speed rail because we heard from thousands of other people who were so disappointed. The same is true in Wisconsin. I only know one person in each of those states who was against it."