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    Poll: Let's rethink high-speed rail

    State Chamber of Commerce members overwhelmingly want voters to take another look.

    By JEAN HELLER, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 21, 2002

    By a ratio of nearly 4-1, members of the Florida Chamber of Commerce say voters should have a chance to repeal the constitutional amendment that obligates the state to build a high-speed rail system.

    In an Internet survey that drew nearly 400 responses this month, the chamber asked businesses throughout the state about their views on the amendment and on various means of financing the project, which will cost billions of dollars.

    The results, obtained Wednesday, indicate that respondents don't want the state to spend much money, if any, on the project.

    Paul A. Ledford, senior vice president for public affairs, said the chamber would use the results as a basis for responding to legislative proposals to fund the project.

    In that case, chamber lobbyists will argue to let Florida citizens have another whack at the idea of high-speed rail. Of those who responded to the survey, 79 percent said voters should have a chance to reconsider.

    If the issue should appear again on the ballot in November, 76 percent of survey respondents said they would vote to repeal the amendment.

    Nearly 80 percent of the chamber members also opposed using a tax increase to finance high-speed rail.

    Eighty-one percent of the members opposed the idea of the state funding $25-billion of the cost if some private sector money could be found.

    High-speed rail also came in a distant sixth when chamber members compared it in importance to education; health care; environment; work force development; and highway, road and bridge construction and maintenance.

    Voters approved the constitutional amendment in 2000. It requires construction to begin next year. It is estimated that the first leg alone, from St. Petersburg through Tampa to Orlando, would cost between $1.2-billion to $6-billion depending on the technology chosen.

    Planners have asked Congress and the Legislature for $4.5-million each. The project already has received $3-million from the federal government and $4.5-million from the state, though none of the federal money has been spent.

    The Senate Commerce and Economic Opportunities Committee has approved a bill authorizing the Florida High Speed Rail Authority to seek competitive proposals for design, construction, operations, maintenance and financing of the system. But the bill specifies that the authority cannot enter into a contract without legislative approval.

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