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Supreme Court Slaps Down High-Speed Rail Appeal

March 3, 2011 - 6:00pm

The Florida Supreme Court on Friday rejected the lawsuit of two state senators seeking to overturn Gov. Rick Scott's rejection of $2.4 billion in high-speed rail funds.

The unanimous decision came after less than an hour of oral arguments Thursday at the court, where justices peppered the senators' attorney with skeptical questions.

In its one-page ruling, the court said the plaintiffs did not give the justices any reason to reverse Scott's decision.

"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 order stated.

The court also declared that "no motion for rehearing shall be permitted."

Scott spokesman Brian Burgess said in a statement that the governor was "gratified that the court provided a clear and unanimous decision."

Burgess said Scott spoke with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood immediately after the court issued its ruling and "informed him that Florida will focus on other infrastructure projects and will not move forward with any federal high-speed rail plan."

"[Governor Scott] is now focused on moving forward with infrastructure projects that create long-term jobs and turn Floridas economy around," Burgess said.

State Sens. Thad Altman, R-Melbourne, and Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, sued Scott on Tuesday, challenging the governor's authority to reject federal stimulus funds to build an Orlando-Tampa train line.

But, facing LaHood's March 4 funding deadline, the seven-member high court appeared unconvinced by the arguments presented by attorney Clifford McClelland at Thursday's hearing.

Politically, Altman was left hanging, as well. No other Republican lawmaker joined his suit, and Senate President Haridopolos reiterated his support for Scott's action shortly after the lawsuit was filed.

Altman's failed legal gambit drew heavy fire from tea party groups, as well. Some suspected that Altman was coordinating efforts with Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, a high-speed rail advocate who continued to push for the failed stimulus funds.

Marianne Moran, head of the West Palm Beach-based Tea Party in Action, said, "The tea party is brewing against Sen. Altman" and predicted that the veteran lawmaker will face opposition in the 2012 Republican primary, when he stands for re-election.

"Not only will high-speed rail put us deeper in debt, but Florida voters have continually rejected it because it is a waste of money at a time when government should be tightening its belt," Moran said.

Joyner could not be reached on deadline.

Altman called the court's ruling a "calamity" for Florida.

"We have a governor who has worked very hard to give away our hard-earned tax money to states with smarter governors who understand the need for high-speed rail," Altman said.

"Now we're suffering. We just lost 24,000 direct jobs -- maybe 40,000 to 50,000 indirect jobs. It's one of the biggest public mistakes in Florida's history."

Altman was one of a dozen Republican senators who signed a Feb. 17 letter asking LaHood for more time for Florida to organize an alternative mechanism to receive federal funds.

But none of his co-signers signed onto the lawsuit. And other sympathetic groups, including the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners, backed away from challenging Scott as the governor reiterated his position.

Scott, in rejecting the federal funds, called the high-speed venture a "boondoggle" that could cost Florida taxpayers $3 billion or more in uncovered operational expenses.

Charles Trippe, the governor's general counsel who argued the administration's case before the court, said after Thursday's hearing:

"The most important thing was that I made the point that to get the relief these petitioners are requesting, they would have to get an injunction against the governor, the Legislature and essentially the federal government to do things that are in their sound discretion."


Contact Kenric Ward at or at (772) 801-5341.

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