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Election 2004

Governor leads push to repeal rail

Bush asks voters to kill the train to avoid "a $25-billion mistake" that would take funds from other projects.

By JEAN HELLER
Published October 30, 2004

The late flood of ads urging voters to repeal their 2000 decision to build a bullet train in Florida suggests all sorts of dire consequences if voters back the train again:

An end to recovery from hurricane damage.

A plunge in funds for education.

The indefinite postponement of road-building projects statewide.

Maybe even a state income tax.

On the other side, supporters of the train say opponents are lying and inflating what the train would cost the state. Furthermore, they say, every penny the state spends on the train would be repaid.

Eventually.

Whether voters believe either side is uncertain, but nearly 20 people standing in lines to cast early ballots this week were all keenly aware of Amendment 6 and had firm opinions about it. In most cases, they were the same opinions they held about the high-speed rail question four years ago.

"I voted against it the first time, and I'm voting against it again," said Monique Kleinfeld, a nurse from St. Petersburg. "It's a waste of money that we could better spend on better education, better roads, for mothers who can't feed their kids, for medication for the elderly."

Gov. Jeb Bush, who made a stop in Tampa Thursday to make a late appeal for support for Amendment 6, called it "a $25-billion mistake."

"It will cost more than the damage done by all four hurricanes that hit the state," Bush said at a news conference at Tampa International Airport. "It's too high a price to pay for something that's, well, romantic, I guess. When we were young, we all thought that fast trains were cool."

Bush, accompanied by Tom Gallagher, the state's chief financial officer and head of the repeal effort, gave a litany of projects he said will have to be delayed if the state is forced to fund the bullet train.

They included airport and seaport improvements in Tampa and St. Petersburg, widening of Interstate 275 in Tampa, U.S. 19 in Pinellas County and U.S. 41 in Pasco and Hernando counties.

Keith Rupp, president of the Florida Transportation Association, a pro-train group, said Bush's criticisms were "everything you've heard before."

"Why does the governor think the whole system has to be built at once, when the proposal on the table is for it to be built in phases?" Rupp said. "In the next 10 to 15 years, projections are that Florida will become the third largest state in the union, surpassing New York state. With growth like that, we have to have an alternative to more lanes of more highways."

Rupp said the governors of six southern states are planning a high-speed rail system that would eventually link Washington, D.C.,and Atlanta.

"Wouldn't it make sense for us to build a system that would be able to link up with that one?" he said.

A recent poll suggests that Bush and Gallagher may have a tough sell.

A St. Petersburg Times/Miami Herald poll taken early in October found that 46 percent of voters planned to vote against Amendment 6 and 43 percent planned to support it. Eleven percent were undecided.

As sometimes happens with constitutional amendments, "for" and "against" don't always mean what they appear to mean.

Amendment 6 would repeal the 2000 constitutional amendment requiring the state to link the largest metropolitan areas with a bullet train. Voting against the amendment is actually a vote for the train. Voting for the amendment is a vote against the train.

Bush has thrown the weight of his office behind the repeal effort, which has been spearheaded by Gallagher. According to the poll, 50 percent of Republicans will go along with the governor's wishes, while 41 percent will vote to keep the train in the Constitution.

Forty percent of Democrats favor repeal, and 47 percent will vote for the train, the poll said. Independents favor the train 54 to 39 percent.

Voters in the Tampa Bay area appear more likely to choose repeal than voters in other parts of the state. The largest population of voters who say they favor the train are in southwestern Florida.

Among voters who plan to vote to re-elect President Bush, 48 percent say they will vote to repeal. Among supporters of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, 38 percent will vote for repeal.

Among the voters standing in line waiting to cast ballots on Wednesday, only three of 17 interviewed were changing their votes from 2000. All three voted for the train in 2000 and said they planned to vote to repeal that vote this time.

Among them was Jane Hunter of St. Petersburg, a retired hairdresser.

"I voted for it the other time, but this time I'm voting against it," Hunter said. "I don't think the money's there."

Asked if she had been influenced by anti-train television advertising, Hunter said, "Some. Yes, some."

But behind Hunter in line, Scott Lubik, a real estate investor from St. Petersburg, said he would vote to keep the bullet train.

"People are opposed to it here because they think if we don't get a train, the money will be spent on other things the state needs," Lubik said. "But it won't be spent on other things. This is government."

[Last modified October 30, 2004, 01:56:24]


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