Dockery Once Again Front and Center on Rail
A candidate for governor and lead opponent of the Legislature’s three-part rail package, Sen. Paula Dockery on Monday continued to rip through the $2.6 billion proposal with the backing of a Central Florida anti-tax organization.
Ax the Tax, already a base of support for the Lakeland senator’s campaign for governor, stood with Dockery as she repeated her familiar refrain against SunRail, the Central Florida commuter train which anchors the rail plan.
“Why special session? Why the need when we don’t have the money? And who are going to be the winners here, because it’s not going to be the taxpayers of this state,” Dockery said outside the Senate chambers.
Doug Guetzloe, chairman of Ax the Tax, said his organization has been fighting publicly-financed rail proposals in Central Florida for more than 20 years because they were ill-designed, favored developers or carried heavy taxpayer costs.
The latest go-around isn’t any different, Guetzloe said.
“This is no time to be sending Floridians increased tax bills with the promise of more to come,” Guetzloe said.
Ax the Tax, Americans for Prosperity, the Florida Taxpayers Union and Tea Party for Florida organizations were among those planning to rally Monday outside the Capitol against the rail package.
Dockery said that in the weeks leading up to the special session called by legislative leaders, the Senate was tilted 24-16 against SunRail. She wouldn’t offer a vote-count Monday, but pointed out that at least one former SunRail supporter, Sen. Carey Baker, R-Eustis, now opposed the train package since it swelled to include a high-speed rail measure.
The 14-member Senate Democratic caucus has only two clear supporters of the measure – Sens. Al Lawson and Jeremy Ring, both co-sponsors of the legislation. Even Lawson, D-Tallahassee, has said his backing is contingent on getting union concessions included in the proposal.
“I know that members are getting beat up,” Dockery said.
Gov. Charlie Crist, a SunRail proponent, was calling in several fence-sitting legislators Monday afternoon to huddle on the proposal, including Sen. Durell Peaden, R-Crestview.
Peaden said he rebuffed Crist’s urging that he support the plan.
“I just have to represent those 400,000 people in my district,” Peaden told the News Service of Florida. “You can’t sell something like that in my district.”
In detailing her opposition to the SunRail plan, Dockery provided an encyclopedic breakdown of the flaws she sees in the rail package. Dockery said she supports providing funding for South Florida’s Tri-Rail commuter train – which is falling $80 million short of meeting annual operating costs -- the plan before lawmakers provides only about $15 million-a-year.
Meanwhile, the high-speed rail portion of the legislation includes no guarantees of federal funding, Dockery said. She then turned her focus on the SunRail proposal, saying it is rife with problems – ranging from giving CSX railway “a gift,” in terms of payments and legal protections, to operating-cost shortfalls certain to require heavy taxpayer costs in counties the train is intended to course through.
She also cast doubts on the job-creation promises of the package, based on Tri-Rail’s 20-year history.
Dockery said lawmakers should be wary of “spinsters” promoting the package.
“You can’t unring this bill,” Dockery said, urging senators to oppose the measure.