Reporting from Washington — Even if Florida's governor doesn't want federal high-speed rail money, officials from California and other states do. And they're doing all they can do snag it — lining up at Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's door, posting appeals on his Facebook page, even bending his ear at social events.
Now, the competition will really heat up. On Friday, LaHood invited states to apply for the $2.4 billion in high-speed rail money turned down by Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
California is believed to stand a good chance of collecting a chunk of the money for its proposed Los Angeles-to-San Francisco line, which is expected to cost at least $43 billion. California received $624 million, or about half of the money declined by the Republican governors of Ohio and Wisconsin.
The competition is expected to be fierce because it could be one of the last opportunities to obtain funding for high-speed rail, a priority of President Obama that has been targeted by the House Republican majority for budget cuts.
"Yesterday, I met with Ray LaHood and told him that if Florida doesn't want $2.4 billion in critical transportation funding, the Northeast Corridor will take it," Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) posted on LaHood's Facebook page.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) wrote LaHood, a former Illinois congressman: "Illinois is ready and willing to put rail dollars to work if other states are not."
And Florida may still be in the hunt, despite Scott's rejection of the money.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said it's possible that a new transit authority composed of officials from cities along the Tampa-to-Orlando route would compete. "Florida's chances are alive," Nelson said.
Scott, in rejecting the funds, expressed concerns that cost overruns and overly optimistic ridership and revenue projections would saddle state taxpayers with a huge bill.
California Democrats in Congress have also weighed in.
"We believe this is an opportunity for the administration to further its investment in the project that demonstrates the greatest potential for success," Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein said in a recent letter to LaHood. California House Democrats, in their pitch to LaHood, called the Golden State "the only state in the nation" to have passed a $9-billion high-speed rail bond to build the system.
"There is a line outside of my door of governors, senators and congressmen," LaHood was quoted by The Hill newspaper as telling a congressional committee this week. "There is no shortage of interest in the $2.4 billion we're going to reallocate from Florida."
Applications for the money are due April 4.