Among Richmond's business elite, nothing sets hearts a-thumping faster than news that more money might be available for higher-speed passenger rail.
So it was titillating when President Barack Obama called for $53 billion in federal money for higher-speed rail, more than four times what had been planned.
Regardless of political party, members of Richmond's business elite dearly want to hop a sleek streamliner at the ornate Main Street Station downtown and arrive 90 effortless minutes later in Washington for their meetings. They've launched a busy campaign to snarf up as many federal dollars as possible to spiff up the CSX Corp.-owned rail line that used to serve the old Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad.
There's a big problem, however. Plenty of fiscal conservatives, especially those in the House of Representatives where Henrico County's Eric Cantor serves as majority leader, see higher-speed rail as an unnecessary and wasteful boondoggle. The rise of the tea party, expected to exert considerable influence in the 2012 elections, has the GOP sprinting from anything resembling high-speed pork.
Just last week, Gov. Rick Scott of Florida sidetracked plans for a higher-speed rail line from Tampa to theme-park-filled Orlando. Scott said that the 84-mile trip would cost the Sunshine State too much even with $2.4 billion in federal funding. State taxpayers could be stuck with a $3 billion bill while the rail line would knock only a few minutes off the typical trip by car. Other states such as Ohio and Wisconsin likewise have pushed away federal money for rail.
This raises questions for Richmond's business set, which claims to be fiscally astute, along with Cantor, a proclaimed deficit cutter who wholeheartedly backs the Richmond-to-D.C. rail project. With the 2012 looming, are Richmond's political and business leaders willing to bite the bullet?