In the news this week:
BRIGHTLINE’S “DEATH TRAIN” – ANOTHER HIGH-SPEED RAIL BOONDOGGLE
Remember in 2011, when then-Governor Rick Scott tried to get President Barack Obama’s administration to let Florida convert $2 billion worth of federal high-speed rail cash into port expansion and highway money, but Obama said no? It turns out, Scott correctly predicted that committing billions of dollars toward building a high speed rail line would turn into a disastrous financial boondoggle that would never deliver on the promise. Obama made a big show of sending “Florida’s money” to California, which foolishly forged ahead with its own high speed rail disaster that will never be completed as promised, in large part because there will never be enough money to build it.
Enter Brightline, Florida’s supposedly privately-funded “high-speed” rail project, with promises of fast-travel between Miami and Orlando (and maybe someday even Tampa), all allegedly at no cost to taxpayers. It turns out that none of those promises are panning out. For starters, Brightline isn’t technically “high-speed” rail and never will be. In order to be profitable, which “privately-funded” projects must be, it turns out more stops are needed along the route in order to pick up more paying passengers. But more stops means less time traveling at high-speed, turning Brightline into just a regular old passenger train. Cars can drive from Miami to Orlando in roughly the same time – and their passengers don’t need a ride to and from the train station.
But Brightline’s failures aren’t limited to just its slow speed. The train service also isn’t entirely privately funded. From tax-exempt bonds and federally guaranteed loans, to local-government funded station stops and enhancements, the price tag of all the taxpayer-funded government gifts to Brightline total over a billion dollars (and counting).
And then there are the deaths and injuries. Lots of them. Nearly 50 people have been killed by Brightline trains since they began their operations. The sheer number of deaths has gotten so bad that last week, even the Miami Herald felt compelled to quantify Brightline’s horrendous death toll, and concluded that Brightline had the worst safety record of any rail line in the nation. Of course, being the Miami Herald, they attempted to blame the administration of Governor Ron DeSantis, but hopefully by now, regular readers of The Capitolist have learned to ignore all that.
Sadly, this week, just days after the Herald’s story was published, another man was killed by the Brightline “death train,” something that local communities who didn’t want the train barreling through their neighborhoods tried for years to warn everyone about.
The bottom line is that trains are great for delivering large volume freight across the country, but less so at competing with automobiles delivering passengers. And with the constant development toward autonomous, high-efficiency vehicles, the case for passenger trains keeps getting harder and harder to defend, but state and national Democrats (and their media supporters) can’t seem to let go.
FLORIDA REPUBLICANS RUNNING CIRCLES AROUND DEMOCRATS ON SCHOOL CHOICE
This week, some of Florida’s GOP leaders rallied at the courtyard of the state capitol in Tallahassee to promote more school choice options for parents. The Wednesday event was part of the National School Choice week, focused on pushing more flexibility in the areas of open public school enrollment, charter schools, online education, school choice scholarships, and home schooling help.
“The best thing about today’s rally was seeing all the children who are celebrating the fact that they are in a choice school that works well for them and that they love, said Erika Donalds, President of Optima Foundation, a nonprofit group focused on establishing and expanding schools of choice. “We are all here, along with these wonderful children, to encourage our legislators to continue to expand school choice so every child in Florida can attend a school they love and will help them be successful.”
Florida Democrats, long-time champions of more funding for public schools, were largely absent from the event.
The Republican push to maximize school choice options is one of those competitive advantages that is forcing Democrats to choose between the politically powerful teacher’s union and Florida parents who are increasingly dissatisfied with public school education options for their kids. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made the dilemma even more stark, with parents desperate for school options that can deliver quality education consistently in the face of constant policy changes, mask mandates and other challenges.
Skylar Zandar, State Director for Americans for Prosperity, summed it up neatly:
“To give Florida’s children a real chance at academic success, we must offer an education system that works for all of them and prioritizes their individual needs,” Zandar says. “That means we must shift from one-size-fits all approaches to tailored education options for students.”
In the 2018 gubernatorial contest between Ron DeSantis and Andrew Gillum, one post-election analysis found that about 100,000 black moms, roughly 18 percent of the estimated 650,000 who voted in the election, backed DeSantis specifically because of his backing of school choice for their children. Gillum’s underperformance in that demographic is one of the major contributing factors of his defeat.
While Democrats may not have internalized the lesson, Republican leaders like House Speaker Chris Sprowls certainly have.
“Growing up in America means you have the opportunity and the right to get the education that is best for you, for your future, for your family – because you matter,” said Sprowls at the rally. “That is what we believe in, and it’s a message of hope, it’s a message of opportunity, it’s a message of belief that there’s nothing that our kids can’t do.