Florida governor and wife invested millions into company behind the private railway system he backed
Republican governor Rick Scott’s record of shady, possibly corrupt dealings while in office continue to surface. He’s given out tons of taxpayer money to private industry types to whom he has suspicious ties, as well as just giving out money to private industries that don’t really serve the needs of the general public. Back in 2011, the Cryptkeeper come to life was offered $2.4 billion in federal funds for a high-speed rail project that would connect Tampa to Orlando, and Orlando to Miami. At the time, Scott said “the proposed high-speed rail line is far too uncertain and offers far too little long-term benefit for me to consider moving forward.” First, he was going to cut spending and then take the federal government to task for the “investments it makes.” In his defense, he did argue that he was worried about Florida having to balance a budget—something required by the state’s constitution.
It’s like watching a Mike Pence acting class
Then, in June, while coincidentally running for the Senate, Gov. Rick Scott changed his mind! But there was no need for federal funds, because he found a private business called Brightline that would get the contract!
Ostensibly, taxpayer dollars would not be used, sidestepping the reason why Scott struck down a similar rail proposal seven years ago.
«This is an exciting opportunity for Orlando, Tampa and our entire state,» Scott said in a statement. «Instead of placing taxpayers on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars, our goal is for the private sector to invest in this project.»
Let me make you a promise. If this deal does go through, I will give you 1,000 to 1 odds that Florida taxpayers will be footing a lot of this bill at some point. Don’t believe me? This was how Scott’s private railway deal worked out the following year, after nixing the federally funded railway.
Then, a year after Scott’s rejection of the bullet train from Orlando to Tampa, he endorsed the rail project sought by Florida East Coast Industries to build a train that would operate at speeds of up to 110 mph from Miami to Orlando, about 60 mph slower than the bullet train Scott canceled. The governor also pledged at least $200 million in state money for a train depot at Orlando International Airport.
Although then-DOT secretary Ananth Prasad touted the project as “the nation’s first privately financed, operated and maintained passenger rail system,” the financing heavily involved taxpayers.
But who cares, right? By the time the railway is finished, he’ll have moved on to bigger and better things—like getting closer to that White House swamp he loves to drink from. He’ll also be a little richer—It turns out, the Tampa Bay Times reports, that Scott and his wife, Ann, have $3 million dollars of theirs invested in Brightline’s parent company, who looks to make a whole lot of money on this deal.
Scott said in June he believes a high-speed rail line from Orlando to Tampa is a good idea. He and his wife last year invested at least $3 million in a credit fund for All Aboard Florida's parent company, Fortress Investment Group, according to recently disclosed financial documents.
Rick and Ann Scott are multi-millionaires with an undisclosed amount of wealth. Fortress Investment Group is the parent company of Florida East Coast Industries which owns All Aboard Florida. All Aboard now operates as Brightline — the system of diesel-electric trains that has been running between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale since January and from West Palm Beach to Miami since May.
When Scott nixed the federally funded high speed rail in 2011, he made sure to “massage the numbers,” lowballing how many commuters took public transportation in the areas that would have most benefited from a high speed rail.
But a report by the U.S. Conference of Mayors suggested that the train could have provided up to $2.9 billion in economic benefits in the Orlando area alone, creating as much as 27,500 jobs. And our passenger rail system is pathetically slow; if you want to start building sleek bullet trains like the ones whipping around Europe and Asia, you’ve got to start somewhere. The Tampa-Orlando route had the necessary permits and land—it went right down the I-4 median—as well as a built-in ridership between Disney World and the Orlando airport. It was telling that Scott massaged the ridership data in his remarks; he argued that it was silly to expect 3 million annual riders on the Tampa-Orlando line when only 3.2 million ride the Acela train in the Northeast Corridor, but he didn’t mention another 7.2 million riders in the Northeast Corridor who take somewhat slower but much cheaper trains.
But, this Fortress Investment Group is definitely a couple of ties away from All Aboard Florida/Brightline, you say? You would be right, but the Scott’s investment in Fortress has a strange timeline.
The parent company of the FECI rail line hasn't always been such an attractive investment for Scott and his wife. In 2014, the last time Scott disclosed the companies included in his blind trust, he did not list Fortress Investments, indicating the fund was acquired after Scott started actively backing the plan.
And according to the Miami-Herald, who did the original reporting on this story, Brightline took a $28 million loss in 2018, and is looking for government deals across the government board—all to keep up the illusion that they’re going to be able to privately fund this expensive proposition.
Using federally backed tax-exempt bonds, the company has raised $600 million to pay for the Miami-West Palm Beach leg of the rail line. It is now trying to sell another $1.15 billion to pay for the West Palm Beach to Orlando segment, but Indian River and Martin counties are asking a federal court to reject the bonds, potentially jeopardizing the extension.
“Brightline and their group of investors are adamant that they are privately funded, but they are clearly seeking deals with governments to keep this project alive,’’ said Dylan Reingold, general counsel for Indian River County, which has filed a federal lawsuit challenging the financing and safety of the project.
Alongside Scott’s disastrous policies surrounding climate change, which have directly impacted his constituents, hopefully Floridians will make the right decision come this November, and keep Rick Scott far from the Senate.