TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott says two senators suing him for his rejection of federal money to build high speed rail want the court to push their failed policies.
Republican Thad Altman and Democrat Arthenia Joyner filed the lawsuit Tuesday, saying Scott overstepped his executive authority by killing the project after the Legislature approved it and appropriated money for it.
Appropriations, they say, is the exclusive domain of the Legislature and he is obligated to spend the money in the designated manner. They say Scott refused to fulfill the "ministerial" task of signing an amendment to the federal grant.
But Scott responded that the Legislature appropriated only $131 million, not the entire $2.4 billion awarded by the federal government. He further argues that there is "nothing ministerial about an order requiring the application of $2.4 billion in federal funds to the construction and operation of a high-speed rail project."
Scott further notes that the federal government will give Florida the money only if the governor expresses "unequivocal support" for high speed rail.
"This, the Governor has made clear, he will not do," the 29-page response reads.
"Thus, as things stand, the Governor will veto any future appropriations for high-speed rail, and has and will direct agencies within his purview to plan accordingly," court documents say.
As for the $131 million already appropriated, Scott's attorneys say the Florida Rail Enterprise has the discretion over its use. And spending the money on rail without enough money to build the entire projects would result in construction of a "few miles of railroad for no apparent purpose. The Court will have created the high-speed railroad to nowhere."
Scott further argues that a legislative appropriation merely "authorizes" the expense of money. It does not compel it.
The $2.4 billion in federal money would have covered nearly all the construction costs of a line between Tampa and Orlando.
But Scott said he rejected the funding because he doesn't want to saddle Florida taxpayers with any financial burdens due to construction cost overruns, operating losses or the refund of the federal money if the project fails.
Scott's rejection of the money set off a scramble by federal, state and local officials to circumvent him and save the long-planned project. Local governments, including Orlando, Tampa, Lakeland and Miami, formed a coalition they said would assume responsibility for putting the project out to bid and ensuring that a private company would cover any construction cost overruns, operating losses due to low ridership, and the obligation to pay back the federal funds if the project failed.
Scott, though, has held firm in his opposition to the project.