Florida Political and Governmental Newsmakers in 2011
These government and political leaders were exceptionally notable during the past year.
[Photo: Scott J. Ferrell]
A Green Light
U.S. Rep. John Mica, a Republican who this month begins his 20th year in Congress, had an admittedly bumpy first year as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. In February, Gov. Rick Scott rejected $2.4 billion in federal high-speed rail funding despite Mica's efforts to negotiate a middle ground that would have given Florida the money if private investment could be found to foot the state's share.
Then, both parties criticized Mica's transportation reauthorization bill that spends $230 billion on road construction in the next six years. On top of that, many blamed Mica for the FAA shutdown resulting from a standoff over funding for rural airport programs.
Mica says he's funding only those projects that can be paid for with federal gas-tax money — making it ironic that 2011 was a crowning year for SunRail, which has drawn criticism for its high cost ($1.2 billion total) and low projected ridership (2,150 a day to start in 2014). For two decades, he muscled SunRail through wary agencies and Congress. Last year, he managed to persuade a skeptical Scott to go forward with the last step — the state's purchase of the rail lines from CSX for $432 million. Mica says the transfer is crucial not only to launch construction but also to create jobs for central Floridians. Because the state now owns the track, it will receive payments from anyone, including CSX and Amtrak, using the line.
Construction is on schedule to begin in the first quarter.
— Cynthia Barnett