As is obvious when you look at Europe and Japan and more recently China, high-speed rail is a big winner. It creates thousands of jobs during the construction and operational phases, cuts down on wasteful commuting time and, to an extent, relieves congested highways. If there is a downside, it is the substantial start-up costs, but then no one said that investing in the future would be cheap.
But in yet another manifestation of the perversely stupid thinking of the burgeoning Republican right-wing, Republican governors in Texas, Florida, Ohio and Wisconsin are turning down billions of dollars in federal money for their states to be part of a national high-speed rail network.
Like Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, who twice killed a badly needed Hudson River rail tunnel linking his state and Manhattan because of cost-overrun concerns, these governors are thinking small at a time when America is on the verge of undercutting its economic and technological future and giving the edge China and other countries, including those damned socialists in Sweden, who aren't stuck with myopic leaders.
"It's eating our seed corn," said Senator Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat, in using the colloquialism that when times are tough, and you are is hungry, you are supposed to plant seeds for crops, not eat them. But that is exactly what Florida Governor Rick Scott wants to do, and he has informed the White House that the $2.4 billion in stimulus money for the rail project will be used elsewhere in the Sunshine State.
The White House's appropriate response is that the dough will indeed be used elsewhere: By another state, possibly New York or California, for which upgrade its aging rail infrastructure is a top priority.
Many of Scott's fellow Repubs are not happy, and the state House has passed a resolution by a veto-proof majority requesting that the feds go forward with the appropriation.
They point out that the project is a low-risk investment (a measly $280 million which will be recoverable) for a state heavily reliant on tourists and has private sector backing, while it has been revealed that Scott broke a promise to read a feasibility study before making a decision that was based on the work of a notorious anti-rail opponent.
"Making this decision, at this point, on a project that could mean 12,000 to 14,000 jobs is very premature,’’ said State Representative Jack Latvala of St. Petersburg.
Florida's aversion to high-speed rail actually dates back to the early days of the Jeb Bush administration when he pulled out state financing for a high-speed network linking the state's three major metropolitan areas because the project, projected to cost $6.3 billion, was too risky for taxpayers.