published Saturday, February 19th, 2011

Florida governor rejects federal funds

As President Barack Obama pushes for $53 billion in new taxes and borrowed money to promote a high-speed rail project, the governor of Florida has done something that politicians rarely do: He has refused billions of dollars in federal funding.

Gov. Rick Scott is rejecting $2.4 billion in already-approved funds from Washington for a high-speed rail project between Tampa and Orlando. That is particularly symbolic, because the president visited Florida last year specifically to announce the funding. As the St. Petersburg Times put it, "Florida was a flagship in the national [rail] plan ... ."

Well, the "flagship" just "jumped ship." Why? Because Florida's governor realizes all that federal money isn't "free." Residents of Florida might have to chip in $3 billion in taxes if the state accepts the money from Washington, he said, not to mention state subsidies that likely would be required to keep the project going. After all, federally run Amtrak has been in business for decades—taking untold billions of dollars in subsidies from taxpayers who never set foot on Amtrak trains—but it has yet to break even. Why would this latest federal push to expand train service suddenly be a success?

Fortunately, that reality is dawning on more and more people. Not only Florida's governor but the governors of Ohio and Wisconsin have now rejected money from Washington for the high-speed rail scheme, and more may do so.

Disgustingly, some members of Congress are trying to pass legislation to force Florida to accept the federal money. But the state's rejection of the funds is refreshing. For too long, it has been assumed that the federal government is a limitless source of cash for all sorts of unconstitutional projects. Now, with our nation more than $14 trillion in debt, it is painfully obvious that there is no free lunch—and no free train ride.

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