Update: Sentinel says the budget language is much ado about nothing, quoting Alexander and others. We’ll see.
Wow. Intrigue and shenanigans everywhere in the CSX deal on Monday. First and foremost, Senate Democratic leaders finally woke up to realize that a $600 million subsidy for a major corporation at a time of school closings makes for a pretty potent issue with which to club certain Republicans controlling the state purse strings. Later language to move the deal forward magically appeared in the Senate budget, which is controlled by J.D. Alexander.
From a Democratic press release:
“Alarmed by the determination of some Republican leaders to push ahead with the controversial $1.6 billion CSX deal despite Florida’s increasing job losses, Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson (D-Tallahassee) and incoming Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich (D-Weston) on Monday called on the legislature to reverse course on the project and return the money to whence it came.
“More than $600 million was siphoned from shovel-ready transportation and infrastructure projects in towns and communities thoughout Florida in order to deliver a sweetheart deal to a multi-billion dollar private company championing a train even Mickey Mouse can’t use,” said Senator Lawson. “This money needs to be returned to the districts to immediately begin those road and infrastructure projects derailed by the CSX deal. And the money needs to be used to offset skyrocketing hikes in “fees” Floridians are facing for basic motor vehicle services.”
Sen. Gary Siplin, an Orlando-area Democrat no less, glossed the whole deal: The “Choo Choo to Nowhere.” I gotta tell you. That’s pretty strong. I’m kicking myself for not coming up with that on my own. See the St. Pete Times for the full rundown.
The Times posted that about 2:15 p.m. A few hours a later, about 7:30 p.m., news broke that language had quietly appeared in the Senate budget bill giving the go-ahead to purchase the tracks from CSX without reference to liability. I’m not entirely sure what the parctical purpose of the language is. But I think it would allow the state to move forward with paying CSX for the Orlando rail lines, S-line upgrades and the Winter Haven hub construction if the liability bill, which is the bill before the senate, goes down, as appears increasingly likely.
Hmmmm. Now who is the chair of the senate budget committee? Oh yes, that’s right, Sen. Alexander. Sen. J.D. Alexander who also owns Phoenix Industries, the Haven food distribution company that does work with CSX; Sen. Alexander who was the driving force behind the Heartland Parkway, the big toll road that would tie into the CSX hub in Winter Haven; Sen. Alexander who represents a large part of south Lakeland, by the way.
Now, if the purchase goes through, I’m relatively sure that CSX isn’t going to lift its liability requirement to get SunRail moving. Could that leave the Orlando guys fighting for their commuter line while CSX sits pretty with all that state money for the S-line improvements and the hub? Talk about a subsidy. And who would benefit?
Those of you in the J.D. circle of trust out there, feel free to correct any aspersions I’m casting. Maybe someone else stuck that language into the budget bill that Alexander controls. Possible, I suppose. Those of you who are not in the circle might think about an ethics complaint.