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Return to Sender: Fla. Gov. Turns Down Billions in Federal Rail Funds

"That is what I was elected to do and that is how I plan to govern."

Just five weeks after taking office as Florida's 45th executive, Gov. Rick Scott is making waves with ripples felt all the way to Washington, D.C. On Wednesday, the Republican governor announced he's turning down $2.4 billion in federal stimulus money President Obama's administration had earmarked for a high-speed rail project to connect Orlando and Tampa. In response, the White House insisted it would spend the money elsewhere.

Last week, Vice President Biden announced the administration's new $53 billion plan to build a national high-speed rail network as a means to create jobs and improve American transportation.

But during a press conference Wednesday, Scott said he was returning the cash to Washington and took time to criticize the president's deficit spending.

“My background is in business, not politics," he said. "But you don’t have to be an economics expert to understand that if you spend more money than you take in, your business will fail. Unfortunately, politicians haven’t always seemed to grasp that same principle."

"I was elected to get Floridians back to work and to change the way government does business in our state. I am committed to making good on those promises," Scott noted.

"It is absolutely critical that we make smart investments with taxpayer dollars, whether state or federal, and I believe our state will be better served by spending these funds on projects that will benefit Florida and not turn into a spending boondoggle. The answer is to reduce government spending, cut government’s leash on our state’s job creators and then hold that government accountable for the investments it makes," Scott concluded.

"That is what I was elected to do and that is how I plan to govern."

In response, the Obama White House said it would send the $2.4 billion to other states if the Florida governor was unwilling to accept it.

Just hours after Scott's announcement, White House press secretary Jay Carney insisted the allocated money would be sent to other states instead of being used to lower the federal deficit.

"We think that is an unfortunate decision," Carney said. "This goes right to the essence of what we have been talking about here. There has been a lot of bipartisan support for the need to create the kind of modern infrastructure in this country that will enable us to compete. High speed rail is very much a part of that and we will make sure that that money is used elsewhere to advance the infrastructure and innovation agenda that is essential for economic growth.

"We believe that the money that is allocated for high-speed rail as part of the Recovery Act is essential to the infrastructure agenda that this president has," Carney added. "Again, it is part of the president's priority and it is essential to us to build an infrastructure that allows us to compete in the 21st Century."

Like pigs at the trough, federal lawmakers quickly lined up for a shot at the funds.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., quickly released a statement Wednesday urging the Obama administration to redirect the $2 billion allocated for Florida to his own state.

"Florida's loss should be New York's gain," Schumer declared.  "Other states may not be ready to unlock the potential of high-speed rail, but it is a top priority for upstate New York. We can put these funds to use in a way that gets the best bang for the buck. The administration should redirect these funds to New York as quickly as possible."

Additionally, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., agreed and went one step further, aiming her plea for the funds directly toward Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. "New York State stands ready to put these dollars to good use in developing the next generation of American passenger rail," Gillibrand wrote. "These investments will create jobs, spur economic development, and continue to build on the growth of ridership we’ve seen in recent years."

It's not the first time New York has lined up to receive funds allocated for other states.  Last November, Gov. Cuomo requested more than $1.25 billion in funds the then-soon-to-be governors of Wisconsin and Ohio said they didn't want.

One last thing…
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