Moments after the AFL-CIO gave their seal of approval to the rail legislation begin debated this week in Tallahassee, the Florida Senate voted 27-10 to support the deal, which approves the SunRail project in Orlando, provides $15 million for the trouble Tri-Rail in South Florida, and also creates funding for a special rail authority in Florida.
This was the 3rd time in the past two years that the legislature debated the SunRail proposal, which failed the previous two times in part because of concerns about liability protections for CSX, the private company that has been negotiating with the state to sell 61 miles of Central Florida track for the SunRail commuter line. The cost for the purchase of those tracks is considered to be over $600 million, with SunRail over all expected to cost over $1 billion.
The Legislature was compelled to pass the omnibus bill this month after being told by the Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood, that the state's chances of receiving federal stimulus money for a high speed rail line would be in jeopardy if they didn't support commuter rail ( which disparate critics like Paula Dockery, Kathy Castor and Marco Rubio all disputed).
The hang ups with labor took precedence over the past weekend, with Senate President Jeff Atwater reportedly holed up with Florida AFL-CIO President Larry Williams.
But today those unions won assurances that the jobs of 184 signalmen and maintenance of way workers in Central and South Florida would be preserved.
The other short term loses are those conservatives in the Legislature who argued that the deal was a rip-off to Florida taxpayers. But the issue has only given more attention to Lakeland State Senator Paula Dockery, who announced just last month that she is challenging Attorney General Bill McCollum for the GOP nomination for Governor.
Local officials from the Tampa Bay area, such as Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard and ConnectUs leader Ed Turanchik, appeared before a Senate Committee this morning arguing for passage of the bill.