Mark Sharpe on trains, entitlements, and the debt

The question is, how do we prepare for continued growth and the limitation imposed on governments by the cost of sprawl. It also means engaging in a vital bottom up / top down review of our long and short term transportation plan for America that puts an end to piece meal efforts which often appear to make no logical sense.

An open letter to concerned Floridians:

The debate over high speed rail has yet to focus on the merits of advanced transit systems and how in combination with other public and private modes of transportation it can be the catalyst for the next transformative period in American history.  Transit, be it rail or bus, offers mobility options which a reliance on a car or road alone does not afford. This is not to suggest that the hundred of billions of public dollars used to subsidize our amazing network of roads was wrong.  Roads have transformed America’s economy. 

The question is, how do we prepare for continued growth and the limitation imposed on governments by the cost of sprawl.  It also means engaging in a vital bottom up / top down review of our long and short term transportation plan for America that puts an end to piece meal efforts which often appear to make no logical sense.   

Of equal or perhaps greater importance is the question of debt and deficit spending.  I for one believe that we must take immediate action to get our fiscal house in order and have called repeatedly for immediate entitlement reform that begins to put Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid on a sound course.  It means we must spend less.  I have also called for a major reevaluation of our defense spending, with a ten percent reduction in new weapon acquisitions beyond what we need to serve our troops now deployed across the globe.  We must also take a very hard look at Afghanistan and ask if spending nearly $2 billion a week in a country immune from foreign tinkering is worth the massive investment in life, limb and treasury. I think not.

This brings me back to rail, transportation and the future of the American economy.  I am bullish on America’s future and frankly tire of the growing cottage industry from both left and right that seeks to put the worst face on our future.  America is stronger than many now profess and is fully capable of carrying off large public-private projects, from power plants and new dams, road projects and even rail.  Rail successfully moves goods across long distances, and when well planned and managed, can move people as well.  To argue differently is to join the cult of doom and gloomers who seem to enjoy disparaging all efforts to improve our quality of life or simply believe that we are incapable of doing things on time, on budget and of high quality.  America is the most powerful nation on earth because we have figured out how to succeed and get right what others fail to do.  Our government, while far from perfect is far better than most others, and our industry is still the envy the world.  If someone frets about risks, give him or her their due, and tell them to move aside, it’s time to put the American spirit to action getting the job done right!

My letter to Florida is simple.  America is still the last bastion of hope for a world seeking freedom and leadership.  Time to quit lamenting about what can’t do and get right what we can. Leaders willing to make things work need to step up, especially in the new age of declining budgets.  So America must reform her entitlement system, get defense spending in line with our long-term strategic interests and then go on about the serious business of building a foundation of infrastructure systems, from water treatment facilities, new air & sea ports, to roads, bridges and rail, that will carry our nation forward.  Hand wringers need not apply.


Mark Sharpe

Mark Sharpe (R) is one of Hillsborough County’s at-large county commissioners. E-mail him at:

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17 thoughts on “Mark Sharpe on trains, entitlements, and the debt”

  1. Well said Mark. High Speed Rail is the future. You can only build so many roads. You can only add so many lanes. And, we can’t afford to send so much money overseas for oil. But the best part of your post is the fact that you and Chris disagree on rail…yet here it is…an intelligent and civil discussion and debate about it. That is what we need…and deserve.

    Jerry Albrecht


  2. Mark,

    All good points. The train may be needed, but now is not the time to take on more debt. Glad to see you are starting to understand. Its spending stupid!

    Jay Burns


  3. I respect and appreciate Mr. Sharpe’s enthusiasm,but the content as a whole reads as a springboard to greater ambitions. His referencing federal entitlements is an effort to use fiscally conservative credentials to justify a fiscally indefensible plan. High speed rail is a money loser everywhere,including China.

    I’ve been in Tampa for fourteen years now and I don’t drive which means I use Hartline to get around.I know of no one in Tampa who voluntarily rides the bus if they have a car.No one.

    I am a native Philadelphian transplanted here and it is normal and in no way a stigma to ride PT in cities like Philly,New York,Chicago,Boston,Milwaukee,etc. That is because PT was well heeled a couple generations before the first car was ever assembled,and before anyone ever conceived of owning one.Most of the people I’ve met in the Tampa Bay area have never been on a bus and are puzzled that anyone does. How do you get them to ride a train? As a transplanted northerner I can tell you that the high speed hysteria is in my opinion driven by a northern provincialism unaware of the unique needs of the remaining parts of the country.

    Building High Speed rail is the easy part,but how do you get people to ride it at a cost that is at best equal to or greater than driving?

    The Transportation Dept estimates a cost of half a trillion dollars over twenty five years to reach the 80% of the country it hopes to service. Given the history of the Federal Government spending projections,you can reasonably assert that it is a gross underestimation of future taxpayer investments.

    Moreover, the opponents of high speed rail have both history and an ever present reality on our side. Amtrak was hyped along similar lines almost forty years ago and it is a money loser with only three of the forty four routes making money. A record of 3-41 would get any Commissioner fired.

    Mr.Sharpe, in his commentary offers a rebuke to those who oppose this initiave. Let’s be clear Mr Sharpe, I as well as many who oppose this proposed debacle have faith in the enduring spirit of Americans and its capacity to accomplish any feat before it. However, Mr Sharpe, your commentary with a brazen disregard for justified critism is not in truth a defense of the American people,but a rigid defense of government that is increasingly unwilling to tolerate even the most reasoned dissent.Fiscal conservatism does not require fundamental distrust of all things government, but does require a rational analysis of the facts.

    Opposing high speed rail is not the the province of “hand wringers” or those who prophesy America’s doom. We do not merely “fret about” the risks. We are seeking accountability. If you are so certain of the outcome MR.Sharpe why don’t you do the “American” thing and raise private capital to provide this service as opposed to compelling an unwilling public to cough up the dough. If you’re so confident in the service it will provide and that “riders will come”, then by all means open your checkbook and take that chance. I have faith in Mark Sharpe the man and entrepreneur, but I am justly skeptical of Commissioner Mark Sharpe whose fear of personal investment would compel his constituents’ to shoulder his risk.


  4. A effective rail system to move people can be accomplished. However, the system must be well planned as far as effective routes and efficient utilization. Just buildings a train that will go fast and hope someone will make use of it is futile.

    The first step is to survey areas and determine feeder routes that will supply passengers . After that the express routes can be considered.

    Bus transportation is the most efficient way to develop feeders. The streets are already in place and a well planned feeder system could work.

    From my experience in Missouri, the planners usually do not consider this. It is easier to dream of moving a lot of people at one time. The mental visual of such a system is easier to project onto a screen or on paper. Reality is not so pretty since carriers with fewer people does not excite anyone.

    In summary, a system to get people where they need to go not where the planners dream they might want to go is the more appropriate planning needed.


  5. “Mobility Options” I just love those progressive government new speak words!
    Take a Train,where I have to drive to a Train Terminal,board a train (with luggage?)on someone else’s timetable,Travel,then disembark, obtain transportation again
    (with luggage)to my final?(hopefully)destination.
    And this is somehow more convenient than leaving when I want driving,stopping to eat what and where I want,and arriving at my final destination, with my transportation available for the new locality.
    That’s an “Option” I’ll pass on Comrade Commissioner Sharpe,However if you want to put YOUR money where Your mouth is,go ahead,be my guest. You might just enjoy riding the train to Disney.


  6. Mark,
    Just read your letter to Floridians. Slow speed rail is not the answer to infrastructure. However, having read your letter the only thing I can tell you is that FDR would be so proud of you. Show me defense spending under control, legitimate Paul Ryanesque fixes in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, revamping of our tax code with a much lower flat tax, and 5 years consecutively running budget surpluses and then I will allow the government to reconsider such projects. Interesting to note that your letter to Floridians sounds eerily similar to the one I received from Bill Nelson (the soon to be replaced by Jeb Bush, Bill Nelson) singing the praises of this rail project. Probably not someone most true Conservatives want to be caught thinking like.
    Best of luck selling this one.


  7. Thanks, Mr. Sharpe. May your sound, logical thinking be contagious to all of the other (dimwitted, stupid) bureaucrats who “FEEL” we’ve got to have this. There is so much to fix right now, not to mention getting our House in order. Start with Unionized Gov’t Employees …they are NOT paying their fair share (health care & pensions) and the School Boards, Administrators and Teachers are doing an abysmal job at teaching our kids. ENOUGH is ENOUGH. NO MORE.


  8. Spare me, Mark!

    I’m having a little trouble “hearing” your meessage for two reasons that readily come to mind this morning.

    #1. I can’t hear all your jingoistic “American dream” rhetoric because the FACT is that none of those things that NEED fixing nationally HAVE been fixed…and never will be fixed apparently (crippling debt and entitlement spending etc.) So I’m having trouble with your logic on how the Orlando Tampa train will be a good thing, one that we achieve if we just put our mind to it. (I think I can…I think I can…I think I can…I know I can!)

    2. I also can’t hear you very well because here locally, the Board you sit on, our own 7 member County Commission, is not taking a very necessary action, and that is screaming in my ear and drowning out all your high-flown “can-do” boosterism. I’m talking about the need to fire County Attorney Renee Lee.

    The FDLE’s summary report of their investigation of the “Bean Lee Affair” has been out for 2 weeks now and it details how Lee repeatedly perjured herself and caused an underling to do so also. It details how Lee interferred with the FDLE investigation by pulling boxes of emails and sneaking around trying to cover her tracks. It details how she pushed herself into getting the 1% raise for herself. The FDLE report reads like a crime novel. And what have commissioners done about this? NADA! So I and others are waiting to see what you 7 are going to do about this. Let’s see how well y’all handle this one. Lee should be fired for cause. And let all her supporters fill the room and THEN let’s see what courage from the dais really looks like…. I’m waiting.

    And for the record — I know that you, Mark Sharpe, do have courage and so does Kevin Beckner. I’ve seen you stand alone when it would have been much easier to just “go along.”
    But on this rail issue — those who diagree with you are not just “hand wringers” — they (we) are capable of just as much solid thinking and logicical conclusions as you are. So keep that in mind when you promote rail so enthusiastically.

    Best to you this Sunday morning.


  9. Commissioner Mark,
    You and I have always agreed to disagree and on this issue we will continue to do so, and hopefully have a Sincere handshake and smile the next time we meet. The facts overwhelmingly show that “Rail will Fail” as it has in every other place it’s been retrofitted — that is unless your talking to Bureaucrats that always agree with the Liberal Sector of the Media. Comment #3 (Kevin)has made several great points as have most of the other folks who have taken the time to reply to your commentary. Comment #6 (Gen) is right on target with her definition of “Mobility Options”. Speaking of progressive government words reminds me of the often used term “Urban Sprawl” — which is another progressive government term for “Let us dictate where you live” rather than Suburban Growth. I believe the “Urban Sprawl” term goes hand in hand with “Let’s build Rail” — if we force/convince people into the “Urban Core”, we might be able to lower the subsidies of “Mobility Options”. There are things I would like to have but cannot afford — We subsidize HART about 65 million dollars per year and growing. The Bottom line is we cannot afford Rail (period)for too many reasons to type about; starting with our nations staggering 14 trillion dollar deficit. You have a beautiful family Mark (a true blessing)let’s not pass on more debt to even those yet conceived.


  10. Apparently Mark has broke ranks with himself and his brain to became a nelson puppet. If he had/would pay more attention to running his AOR, my County,instead of finding fault with federal budgets,(a no brainer even for Liberals)maybe he would have noticed a work alliance group spending many thousands of my tax dollars on free meals to employees before he read it in the paper. Disgusting and sad but helps clear my head when voting in the next election. Like the nursery rhyme fly away Nelson, Fly away mark.


  11. Brian – always great to hear from you. Even while diagreeing you always maintain a very civil tone. HSR is not a panacea, but over time a system connecting Tampa – Orlando – Miami and then Jacksonville will help make Florida an even greater destination state for tourists and business. One day both roads and rail will compliment each other providing far greater mobility options and tremendous development potential along the transportation corridors. Again – its not a panacea and there is certainly a cost. The question is will private industry make it a winner for Florida and will the investment bring an even greater economic return.

    All the best to you – Mark


  12. Commissioner Mark,
    Your enthusiasm is to be complimented — “panacea” or
    “cure all” are non-existent — I think the answer is in your final sentence — the “question”. Hope you had a good “Presidents Day” my friend!


  13. As a Tampa Native and someone who voted for Mr. Sharpe in the last election – I totally disagree with him on this issue. I believe that Mr. Ward has expressed many of my feelings on this issue very well. To me a transit system should help to elminate reliance on automobiles and Tampa to Orlando is not the answer or even a good place to start. How about Tampa to New Tampa – have you seen that traffic in the morning/evening. You might get some riders there. I also agree with lets manage our home base and the “Bean Deal” and other things that effect Tampa/Hillsborough County. Unless the rail project can be managed and financed by someone other than the taxpayers – let it drop. If private enterprise takes it on it will have a much higher success rate, as private enterprise operates to “Make Money” not just spend other people’s money.


  14. While, Political Triangulation, seems apparent here, i.e. public transportation is necessary, to defray ‘sprawl’ and the public should be on the hook to pay for it, a public benefit for our tax dollars. The real, imho, goal here is the implementation of Agenda 21. 30% of the state of Florida is land controlled by the government, same is approximately true of total land mass of the United States. The bottom line is that massive rail projects benefit cities and their tax sturcture, less money needed for infrastructure, less territory for police and fire to have to cover, school systems needs, etc. and all this at the cost of the individuals, that would be us, freedom. Rail projects, whose intent is public transportation, is designed to concentrate populations, either by force, i.e. ordinances, high fees for automotobiles, incentives, again tax payer funded, for buses again etc. What happens is the creation of ‘rights’ for government at the expense of our Rights as stipulated under our Bill of Rights and Constitution. Agenda 21 is bad news for our rights and it has been going on for at least 40 years.


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