Following a committee hearing on Brightline’s use of tax-exempt Private Activity Bonds held at Congressman Brian Mast’s (FL-18) request, support is now building in Congress urging the Department of Transportation to suspend the allocation of the financing to Brightline.
Rep. Mast today released a letter (attached) with Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Mark Meadows and Members of Congress from Florida urging the Department of Transportation to “use your authority to suspend the allocation of the AAF PABs.” The letter continues, “failing to do so compromises the integrity of the entire PAB program, and we cannot support what amounts to blank-check authority for this program.”
The letter is signed by Subcommittee Chairman Mark Meadows (NC-11), Congressman Ron DeSantis (FL-6), Congressman Matt Gaetz (FL-1), Rep. Mast and Congressman Bill Posey (FL-8).
Rep. Mast has fervently opposed Brightline’s expansion on the Treasure Coast, calling for increased transparency about their use of taxpayer dollars and improved safety measures.
“Taxpayers deserve the truth about who is paying for Brightline, and our community deserves answers about why they are refusing to address critical safety and economic concerns,” Rep. Mast said when the hearing was initially announced.
Because Brightline failed to qualify for public financing under the statutory definition of high-speed rail, Brightline instead sought and secured the public financing for this expansion (“Private Activity Bonds”) by claiming that their passenger rail train is actually a “highway.” At Rep. Mast’s request, a hearing was held on April 19, 2018 to review this abuse of Private Activity Bonds, which circumvents the intent of Congress in creating the program.
Despite their claim that Brightline is “not publicly funded at all,” in the hearing Brightline admitted that “there has been public funding granted.” Moreover, there are at least four instances in which Brightline has sought public financial support:
- All Aboard Florida applied for nearly $1.6 billion in publicly-subsidized federal loans in 2013.
- Then, in 2014, All Aboard Florida applied for $1.75 billion in tax-exempt federal bonds. A U.S. District Court judge found that the cost to taxpayers would be up to $600 million.
- In 2014, the State of Florida allocated $213.5 million in its budget for the construction of a facility at Orlando International Airport. All Aboard Florida would be the sole tenant of this facility.
- Last year, Brightline was issued $600 million in tax-free bonds and then secured an additional $1.15 billion in tax-exempt bonds to pay for Phase 2 of the project.
In addition to these financial concerns, Brightline trains have been involved in six deaths since they began running, raising serious safety concerns ahead of the proposed expansion through the Treasure Coast to Orlando.