Florida Rail Project May Depend on Rental Car Tax

The Florida State Senate Transportation and Economic Development Committee on April 20 approved a $2-a-day surcharge on South Florida car rentals to fund a South Florida commuter train.

It was the latest step in Central Florida’s long-running legislative quest to get its own $1.2 billion commuter rail, known as SunRail. There has also been a long-running effort to get a $2 rental car tax dedicated to Tri-Rail, South Florida’s existing commuter train.

The rental car tax for SunRail could still get stripped on the Senate floor, but if it passes, South Florida voters will vote in the 2010 election on whether to ratify the tax. However, Smith said of the rail project, “If they take out the rental car surcharge, the bill dies.”

In the Florida House, Republicans have the votes to pass SunRail without the $2 tax, but might concede if it’s the only way to get a deal. Gov. Charlie Crist has resisted charging the rental car tax without a referendum first.

The existing Tri-Rail is also fighting for survival. Without money from the rental car tax, Tri-Rail would drop its number of daily trains from 50 to 30 and would shut down weekend and holiday service by October, a spokeswoman said.

The rental car tax would bring in an estimated $40 million.

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