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Voters have some nerve telling Jeb what to do

Published May 23, 2004

Gov. Jeb Bush hates the high-speed rail project that Florida voters created in the 2000 election.

He really hates it.

He dislikes it so much that, even though high-speed rail is part of the Florida Constitution that he took a solemn oath to uphold, he has tried his darndest not to build it.

He dislikes it so much that he has made its repeal one of his top priorities.

Why does the governor have such strong feelings against high-speed rail? After all, in many other ways, Jeb Bush is a techno-future, Buck Rogers kind of guy.

Remember that he's our first e-mail governor. He is the guy who turned our state into ""

He is the guy who is forking over hundreds of millions of dollars of our money to the Scripps Research Institute.

Yet when it comes to thinking of creative alternatives to buying Hummers, spending $2 a gallon for gas, and fighting traffic along Interstate 4, the governor is stuck back in the last century.

There are those who think this is a conspiracy, that Jeb opposes the choo-choo because it is in his family's genes - Bushes helping the oil companies, you know.

But I don't think that's it at all. I think the governor opposes high-speed rail simply because he is a stubborn man who does not like to be ordered around by the voters.

Look at the way Bush so bitterly fought the class-size amendment of 2002. Remember? He said if voters actually had the gall to demand smaller classes, the cost would "blot out the sun."

Well, it passed. The sun is still shining. And the governor has dropped any plans to repeal the class-size amendment, so as not to give opponents an extra motive for turning out in November.

Instead, he is turning his full fury on high-speed rail, which was put on the ballot and passed largely because of the money and efforts of a single Lakeland businessman. Once again, he warns of that sun-blotting thing.

A few days ago, the governor sent out an e-mail asking supporters to sign a petition to put a repeal of high-speed rail on the ballot.

"All that we've worked for to secure a bright future can turn from promise to peril because of a high-speed rail mandate that is a luxury we can't afford," the governor warned ominously.

Bush continued: "A Tampa-Orlando-Miami route would cost $17-billion or half a billion dollars a year for 35 years, based on the most conservative estimate. Diverting $500-million a year to a bullet train designed primarily for tourists is the equivalent of:

"Firing 13,000 Florida teachers.

"Cutting 30,000 Floridians from the state's Medically Needy program.

"Releasing 25,000 inmates from the state's prison system."

Holy shamoley!

Now, you will notice the things the governor threatened. Firing teachers. Hurting poor sick people. Releasing prison inmates.

What Bush did NOT threaten to do, of course, was Close any of the 400-plus loopholes in the sales tax that benefit special interests.

Actually collect some state corporate income tax.

Take away dough from any of his own pet projects. Crack down on school-voucher con men. Maybe blow a little less on Scripps.

I know, I know A lot of people think it was stupid to put a high-speed rail project into our state Constitution in the first place.

Here's a secret: I voted against it, too. I didn't think it belonged there.

But, you know what?

More people voted for it than against it. They won. So it's in the Constitution.

And you know what? If the voters of this state used the Constitution to demand a public policy of something other than paving more roads, buying more cars, guzzling more gas, and polluting more air Maybe that wasn't really such a crazy, inappropriate use of the Constitution after all.

So if Bush does get his repeal on the ballot, and the voters throw it back in his face and vote yet a second time to build that train, then I fully expect to see him out there personally laying the track.

[Last modified May 22, 2004, 23:36:15]

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