Conservative Tea Party Movement Targets Florida Rail Plan

The conservative "tea party" movement, last seen complaining about the government-funded local transit system that they took during an anti-government march in Washington D.C, is veering back to form in Florida with an organized protest against the state’s proposal for broad new investments in rail transit.

image4947654x.jpgThe "Tea Party" is now a registered political party in Florida. (Photo: CBS)

The Florida chapter of Americans for Prosperity (AFP), one of three national conservative groups driving the "tea party" effort, has asked its members to protest on Monday in Tallahassee.

The date coincides with an anticipated state House vote on rail legislation with multiple goals: setting up guaranteed funding for South Florida’s popular but cash-strapped Tri-Rail, authorizing a similar commuter network called SunRail in Central Florida, and creating two new agencies to oversee a potential state-wide high-speed rail system.

The Orlando Sentinel reported a statement from Adam Guillette, director of AFP in Florida:

This train boondoggle is the wrong proposal at the wrong time. Our legislature should focus on ways to cut wasteful spending, not increase it!

According to the Sentinel, AFP’s anti-rail protest is set to feature a high-profile guest: state senator and GOP gubernatorial hopeful Paula Dockery, who helped kill an earlier incarnation of the Florida commuter rail plan in 2008.

Dockery describes herself as a rail proponent, but claims that the current legislation would generate excessive profits for CSX, the freight company that controls more than 60 miles of rail tracks slated for purchase by the state. Still, her rhetorical approach to attacking the Florida rail bill appears straight out of Washington’s pro-roads playbook.

The Miami Herald yesterday transcribed the following exchange between Dockery and fellow state senators who support the rail plan:

Dockery: In 2008, Tri-Rail brought in $9 million. What was the operating deficit that local governments needed to make up?

Sen. Jeremy Ring: I believe government needed to make up $46 million. The whole
operating impact was $57 million. Mr. Chair, I have a question: I would
like to know where we’re going with this? Roads cost money as well. Mr.
Chair, I just don’t know where we’re going. This is not a quiz. This is
not a multiple-choice quiz. …

Dockery: Mr. Chairman, you are selling this bill on creating jobs
and economic development. And I’m asking questions to show that our one
and only existing rail service not only did not create a lot of jobs,
but also is operating at a deficit 20 years later with a 15,000
ridership — whereas the system that you’re trying to build now only
has an estimated 3,500 ridership.

Dockery won praise from the Herald for her rail knowledge, but her data on SunRail ridership projections was incorrect; the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) estimates that opening-day ridership on the Central Florida system would reach 4,300. In addition, FTA models for predicting light rail ridership have proven unreliably low in Phoenix, Minneapolis, and Houston.

  • Galls

    Yes my tea party brothers, lets get rid of those wasteful road subsidies while we are at it!

  • Jason A

    Does “wasteful” spending also include the FL highways that don’t pay for themselves?

  • TAS

    Not sure I know what this “pro-roads Washington playbook” is. Sounds like someone painting with too broad a brush, eh?

    I like Florida’s attempt to fund Sun-rail and Tri-rail along with hsr, and I was unfortunate enough to ride the Metro with those tea-baggers (who praised the convenience it offered enroute from National Airport).

    But every anti-transit dolt is not necessarily pro-roads; some of them are just anti-gov’t.

  • Lee

    the tea party “free market populism” will never come close to being cohesive as long as they keep supporting massive subsidies for roads, highways, private parking garages, etc., and at the same time denying that these subsidies exist. There is nothing in tea party’s ideology that backs up goverment spending to subsidize automobile-centric development and infrastructure. Their supposed lack of knowledge about this type of spending is hard to accept when they are critical of every other type of spending. How is do they square their ideology with their complaints about cuts in government spending for highway rest stops, for example? They seem to go out of their way to overlook their own ideology framework whenever it comes to automobile-centric planning.

  • I agree, the government spends too much!

    That’s why the United States military should be disbanded.

    The Founding Fathers never envisioned a standing army for this nation! A militia is fine. Just the National Guard and that’s it.

    Hey, where’re you going….

  • Does anyone here see the trap? Why was all transit-operating money chopped from the stimulus while $8B in HSR money miraculously sailed through? Train ridership will never be enough to justify the investement as long as urban public transit sucks. Rail investment, including some of the suburb-serving light rail plans will then be justifiably seen as a boondoggle for the affluent.
    .
    Make urban public transit fare-free. You will change the playing field.

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