March 4, 2011 -- President Obama's vision for a national high-speed rail network was dealt a significant blow today when the Florida Supreme Court upheld Gov. Rick Scott's authority to unilaterally kill a cornerstone of the plan.
Scott last month rejected $2.4 billion in federal stimulus money to fund new express train service between Orlando and Tampa that had been under consideration for decades.
The move was hailed by Scott's Tea Party supporters, but it was challenged by a bipartisan group of state lawmakers who said the governor had exceeded his constitutional authority.
The court ruled that Scott had not acted illegitimately.
"Based on the limited record before the Court and a review of the federal and state law relied on by the parties, the Court has determined that the petitioners have not clearly demonstrated entitlement to quo warranto, mandamus, or any other relief," the justices wrote in their order.
The decision effectively ends prospects for completion of the rail project.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had set a deadline of today for Florida to accept the cash, which would have covered nearly all the costs, before offering it to one of 13 similar projects in 31 states.
Obama, who is in Florida today with former Gov. Jeb Bush to talk about education reform, had touted the Florida high-speed rail line as a positive example of how to improve the country's infrastructure.
"I'm going to come back down here and ride on it," Obama said of the line at an event in Tampa in January.
But Scott repeatedly voiced concerns about the potential of cost-overruns and long-term operating costs that could hit Florida taxpayers.
"The truth is that this project would be far too costly to taxpayers and I believe the risk far outweighs the benefits," Scott said last month.
Gov. Scott Cites Example
The governor cites train service between Palm Beach and Miami, whose operating costs are only partially covered by fares, as an example of what he wants to avoid.
The state of Florida faces a $3.6 billion budget deficit.