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Florida TaxWatch Rebukes Bill Designed to Sideline Brightline

Group says passage of SB 386 will increase costs for taxpayers and violate private property rights

All Aboard Florida High Speed Rail

Watchdog group Florida TaxWatch just issued a briefing that examines the effects that SB 386, “The High-Speed Rail Safety Act,” would have on All Aboard Florida’s (AAF) Brightline – the privately-funded express rail passenger service expected to connect South Florida with Orlando later this year. This follows news that the Florida Chamber of Commerce is scoring the bill, a sign that this bill would bring significant costs to Florida taxpayers.

In the brief’s conclusion, Florida TaxWatch noted that the passage of this bill would “increase costs and make the operations of Brightline more difficult.” But the most damaging criticism of SB 386 is found in the group’s analysis of its burdensome regulations and violation of private property rights:

Under the guise of protecting public safety, the Florida High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act creates a new layer of state regulation for intercity express passenger rail service, and applies those regulations to the only rail service that meets the narrow definitions contained in the Act—the passenger rail service operated by All Aboard Florida. If passed, the Act will not only make the operation of Brightline more expensive and more difficult, it will make other passenger rail service providers think twice before expanding intercity passenger rail service to other parts of the state.

The provisions in the Act that require AAF to assume responsibility and costs for maintaining grade crossings, while other passenger rail service providers are not required to do so, raises personal property rights issues. Shifting this responsibility to AAF could be viewed as a “taking” and as the basis for legal action under the Bert J. Harris, Jr., Private Property Rights Protection Act.

SB 386 was brought to the Florida Legislature by Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Republican from the Treasure Coast region of the state. Florida TaxWatch notes that when balancing the desires of one region versus the state, the state’s interests should prevail.

Ultimately, Florida TaxWatch concluded that Brightline is “filling a public need using private funds and without asking for public subsidies” and that the group “believes such enterprises should be encouraged rather than discouraged through additional regulation.”