Democrats Pushing for SunRail, GOP Says It’s About Time
Florida Democratic leaders on Thursday called on Republican leaders to help draw down federal stimulus money to secure funding for SunRail.
Republican leaders, however, say it is Democrats who have been slow to climb aboard.
Florida Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, and Florida House Democratic Leader Franklin Sands, D-Weston, called on the Republican leaders to work toward securing more than $2.5 billion in funding for SunRail and other rail projects.
“If commuter rail offers the promise of new economic opportunity and transportation innovation, then Florida’s legislative leaders need not further delay. It is time to stop the political stall tactics,” Sands said. “The last thing that out-of-work Floridians want to hear today is nay-saying and excuses from Tallahassee.”
Federal transportation officials have made $8 billion available through the Federal Railroad Administration to develop high-speed and commuter rail initiatives nationwide. Florida is one of several large states vying for the cash.
Last year, the bill cleared the House but died in the Senate when staunch opposition led by Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, brought it down on the floor. Earlier this year, a similar measure passed its only House Committee but again got held up in the Senate. But several House Democrats also opposed the measure last year.
“Minority Leader Sands’ newfound commitment to creating jobs is encouraging, but it is disappointing that he’s just now realizing how important those jobs are for Floridians,” Hasner said in a statement. “When the House last voted on SunRail in 2008, Minority Leader Sands was one of 39 House members left at the station voting against Central Florida Commuter Rail.”
While Dockery, a Republican, has been the most vocal opponent of SunRail, it has been Republican Senate President Jeff Atwater and Republican Sen. JD Alexander of Lake Wales, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, who have emerged this autumn as the most vocal backers of the idea, which has been pushed hard for several years by another Senate Republican, Sen. Lee Constantine of Altamonte Springs.
In October, talk of a special session began as Atwater said the federal government was looking for action on other rail projects in Florida before it considers approving the state's $2.5 billion application for the first leg of the long proposed Tampa-Orlando-Miami bullet train. House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala remains uncommitted, but House Republicans have said they're waiting to get committed until they see if the Senate now has enough votes after killing the project earlier this year.