Thursday, February 24, 2011

Policy wonks, legal scholars vexed by Scott's rail-killing authority

Posted By on Thu, Feb 24, 2011 at 10:56 PM


So it's been over a week since Governor Rick Scott sent the hopes for high-speed rail in Florida careening towards a cliff, and now that the red haze has faded from the periphery of your vision and you've wiped the foam from your mouth, you may be asking yourself: is that even legal? Did Rick Scott technically, legally have the authority to do that?

A few bloggers have taken a swipe at this question, and they've found that the answer isn't so simple. One is Kemp Brinson, the attorney behind the Polk Law Blog and also quoted in this week's cover story on Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd's war on obscenity. Brinson took a look at the state statues and found a "confusing mess of executive authority," which leads him to arrive at some equally confusing conclusions:

1. The FRE [Florida Rail Enterprise, a state entity] may or may not be an independent agency outside the normal power of the governor to control.

2. The state or FRE may or may not have already executed written grant agreements with the U.S. DOT to accept high speed rail funding.

3. The state may have already accepted money from such grants, and may or may not have to pay it back if it backs out.

4. The legislature may or may not have already given FRE the entire amount required to completely fund the project.

Brinson also links to a piece by PolitiFact Florida which points out that Scott is prohibited by state statute from "simply choos[ing] to not spend money budgeted," which in this case would be $131 million already allocated for the rail.  But, alas, the story notes, Scott still "holds most cards" and has plenty of other means to kill the project.

If a bond issue is required, [Scott] could try to kill the project through a vote on the Cabinet, or he could to hold up giving away the right-of-way to build the rail line. Or he could order his Department of Transportation secretary to fire people associated with the rail project.

"He has the ability to direct agency heads and the ability to control expenditures that come into the budget over the next few years through a veto," said former state Sen. Dan Gelber, who was the Democratic candidate for attorney general. "If the governor's dead set on making it not happen, he can make it not happen."

So, aside from putting the governor out with chloroform and planting pro-rail thoughts in his head, it may be easier to just recall him. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

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