by Mitch Perry
We blogged several times yesterday on the goings on in Tallahassee, regarding the rail proposal which ended up passing in the Senate surprisingly easily, 27-10. Here's our wrap up from last night.
Two of the dissenting votes belonged to local Democrats Arthenia Joyner from Tampa, and Hillsborough/Pinellas's Charlie Justice, who actually didn't vote at all, but apparently made some sort of deal in conjunction with South Florida Democrat Ted Deutch. We're not certain how that works; we've got a call into Justice's office and hope to have more on what that's all about.
The breakthrough in negotiations between organized labor and Senate negotiators paved the way for most Democrats to vote in support, but Joyner tells today's Tampa Tribune that her vote was "more than about the unions," saying,
"It was about the people of Florida who we're going to have to make further cuts on, come March - and where we are we going to get the money? How can we afford to spend this money on this train?"
Eastern Hillsborough Senator Ronda Storms voted no, as did the leader of the opposition, Lakeland's Paula Dockery.
Another reason why so many Senators who were undecided suddenly voted yes? According to the Palm Beach Post, some chits were offered by Senate President Jeff Atwater:.
Sources close to Atwater's office confirmed that at least three senators Democrats Lawson of Tallahassee and Frederica Wilson of Miami and Republican Evelyn Lynn of Ormond Beach were told their local projects would be given special consideration during the regular session that convenes in March despite a projected $2.1 billion budget shortfall. All voted for the measure.
Lawson denied he was offered anything in exchange for rounding up Democrats that had previously opposed the measure.
"I did it for the unions," he said.
For the past two and a half years, Paula Dockery (with the support of a few other Senators) had led the campaign against the SunRail deal with CSX, because of concerns about how the taxpayers would be on the hook if there were accidents on CSX's rails.
Several Democrats told CL that they were inclined to support the bill because those liability concerns "had been addressed." But how sufficiently? Not good enough obviously for Dockery or Ronda Storms. Again, from today's Tribune article":
Bill sponsors altered the indemnification language somewhat by making CSX liable for more costs in the event of certain accident scenarios. Storms and Dockery argued the changes were merely superficial - but for the first time in three sessions, they could not persuade enough of their colleagues to vote no.
Will this help Florida acquire high speed rail? There are absolutely no guarantees, despite what supporters have said. Yes, it's probably true that the $2.6 billion in funding from Washington for the high speed plan would be a pipe dream if legislators did not pass the rail plan, but there is absolutely nothing in writing that says that will happen.
I've noticed some potshots being taken in some letters to the editor on various state newspaper Web sites today towards Dockery. But if I'm a Bill McCollum supporter, I wouldn't be feeling all that comfortable after seeing the Tea Baggers embrace Dockery this past week.