To grant Petitioners their requested relief - the application of all proposed federal funds to a high-speed rail project - this Court would have to (i) order the Legislature to enact specific appropriations for some $2.27 billion, (ii) order the Governor not to veto such legislation, and (iii) order the Legislature, if the Governor does veto the legislation, to override that veto. It goes without saying that such an unprecedented order would render the separation-of-powers doctrine utterly meaningless
As required by the Florida Supreme Court, Gov. Rick Scott has filed a response to the lawsuit by two senators over his rejection of federal funding for a high-speed rail project connecting Tampa and Orlando.
While the suit brought by Sen. Thad Altman (R) of Melbourne and Sen. Arthenia Joyner (D) of Tampa made a compelling case, Gov. Scott's rebuttal also made good points. Either way, the parties will battle it out in court, as the Florida Supreme Court has scheduled oral arguments in the case to be held March 3.
You can read the governor's entire response, as posted from the Supreme Court's website, here. Or you can read on for some highlights.
First, the response starts out politically, describing the plaintiffs as "State Senators whose policy preferences have not prevailed in the political process" and who are asking the court "to step into, and take over, the planning, implementation, and operation of a proposed high-speed rail line."
Sens. Altman and Joyner argued that the project hinges on a law already enacted and funds already appropriated. Not so fast, say the governor's lawyers. The project's clearly dependent on those federal dollars, and the Florida legislature certainly didn't appropriate such monies, they assert.
That's a bit of a comical scenario, but it makes a point. The response further asserts, in decidely legal language, that Gov. Rick Scott has no intent of ever approving the high-speed rail project, which, they argue, is a requirement of the U.S. Dept. of Transportation.
"For its part, the USDOT has indicated, in both ongoing discussions and formal documents, that the Governor's unequivocal, unqualified support for high-speed rail is a necessary condition of the USDOT's continued guarantee of grants for the rail line.... Moreover, to guarantee the funds, USDOT will require agencies under the Governor's purview (1) to oversee "implementation planning, design, location, bid award, construction, maintenance and operation;" (2) "to provide technical assistance and support" to the rail line; and (3) "to process fully and expedite any and all necessary reviews and approvals." Again, Governor Scott's considered policy judgment is that it is unwise to make these guarantees. He will not do so."
Another good point. Still another is the rebuttal of the plaintiffs' assertion that the Florida Rail Enterprise cannot be interfered with by the governor. The response reads:
"Contrary to Petitioners' claims, the FRE is clearly not beyond the control of the Governor and the Legislature, despite the powers granted to it through the Florida Rail Enterprise Act, and despite the appropriation by a past Legislature of a small portion of the funds that would actually be required to build and operate the high-speed rail system."
Moreover, the response wraps up: "Petitioners' argument that the ship has sailed, and that nothing can now stop high-speed rail from being built in Florida, is wholly without merit and should be rejected by this Court."
The governor also asserts that the senators don't have the standing to file suit, since they have not been injured by the governor's actions.
Oral arguments go before the Florida Supreme Court tomorrow. We'll keep you posted.