Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Mail call: Readers criticize Scott and PolitiFact coverage on high-speed rail

Some criticism, with a little praise, in the latest mailbag.
Some criticism, with a little praise, in the latest mailbag.

The big news in Florida is Gov. Rick Scott's decision to reject $2.4 billion in federal funding for a high-speed rail line linking Tampa and Orlando. At PolitiFact Florida, we've covered two aspects of Scott's decision -- looking into Scott's comparison of ridership figures with Amtrak's Acela service and a claim by Sen. J.D. Alexander that Scott couldn't just unilaterally kill the rail project.

We rated Half True Scott's claim that the projected ridership for the Florida rail line was equivalent to train service in the bustling northeast corridor of the United States. The problem wasn't his numbers, but rather that Scott singled out only one type of Amtrak train service -- leaving out 70 percent of the train passenger traffic in the northeast.

Alexander, meanwhile, argued that the governor cannot just declare rail dead because the Legislature appropriated $131 million to the project in the current year budget. Alexander is technically right, but we ruled his claim Half True because Scott still holds most of the power to cancel the rail project

All that rail talk has you talking, too.

Here's a sampling of your e-mails on that topic, and others. (Comments are edited for length and style).

Count the tourists

"You forgot that Scott also neglected to compare the tourist populations - It looks to me that the Orlando/Tampa/St. Petersburg area gets more tourists than NYC and Washington, D.C., combined."

Scott misleading people

"Rick Scott is deliberately misleading people. He compared projected ridership with Acela ridership on the Northeast corridor, but did NOT include ridership for other Amtrak trains running on the same corridor. Amtrak's total Northeast Corridor ridership last year was 10.4 million, or more than three times the Acela-only number he cited. Please check with non-partisan National Association of Railroad Passengers - www.narprail.org - for confirmation. To his great shame, Scott has deliberately misled Florida voters."

Check the risk

"Kudos to your rail coverage -- but that rather than ridership question, it seems the risk/financial liability questions Scott raised is more central. There seems to be sharp disagreement between (U.S. Transportation Secretary) Ray LaHood et al. and the governor's office on this question, with both sides saying the exact opposite things."

Even more riders in the northeast not riding Amtrak

"Several states along Amtrak's Northeast line also offer commuter service that is in addition to the regional service. For instance, Maryland runs weekday trains along those tracks that do extra stops. So does New Jersey and I believe Massachusetts and maybe Pennsylvania.

"My guess is that Florida's plan would be more correctly compared to traffic on the commuter lines than to traffic on those lines, but it's a little complicated because the commuter fares in New Jersey and Maryland are priced considerably less than what Florida is talking about.

"Either way, it's probably not correct to mention the Amtrak service without making clear that a whole bunch of riders travel on those lines by train in other ways."

Critical of health care tax claim

Switching topics, a reader objected to the way we analyzed a claim by Scott that the federal health care bill is "probably the biggest tax increase ever in the history of our country." We ruled that claim False by comparing the size of tax increases relative to the size of the national economy (the Gross Domestic Product).

"When doing your analysis, why did you not just leave it at a comparison of tax hikes in 1985 dollars?

"By indexing the comparisons to GDP, are you really comparing apples to apples? Is the GDP dollars also adjusted to 1985 dollars? GDP goes up with government spending. Currently we are spending trillions of dollars on credit. Was that the case in 1985? Is that really a fair comparison, since deficit spending increases the GDP and doing so will decrease the ratio you are using to compare with? I think you are giving us a statistical snow job!"

(Editor's Note: To compare taxes as a portion of the GDP, we used a study by the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Tax Analysis. That study eliminates the effects of inflation, real economic growth and the size of total federal receipts.)

A fan of Scott's corporate income tax proposal

Another reader chimed in with praise of Scott's proposal to cut and eventually eliminate the corporate income tax.

"The governor’s plan to eliminate the state corporate income tax is genius, and the move will be shown to create a job magnet among the southern U.S. states. It will also pull many multinationals into Florida from foreign locations.

"Florida can be a national role model to other U.S. states as well as Washington by eliminating their corporate income tax and creating jobs and economic growth. Like many other states and our federal government, the corporate income tax accounts for only 5 percent of total Florida revenues yet it causes employers to look elsewhere to place operations and employees.

"The $1.8 billion in lost revenues will quickly be made up by the economic growth which will occur as sales and use taxes that make up 65 percent of Florida's revenues rise. Florida corporations will also be able to lower the prices of all goods and services and raise wages to employees as companies have more capital to compete with. And as companies invest in their workforce and payrolls grow, household formation will increase and Florida real estate prices will move higher (which will be beneficial to local property taxes and thus the schools)."