Amendment is Common-Sense Approach to Conservation | Florida Voices
| Wed, Aug 15, 2012|
| Eric Draper, Executive Director of Audubon Florida, in Florida Voices — Florida lawmakers have cut conservation spending more deeply than any other part of government. That’s a fact. |
Conservation is a value all Floridians deeply cherish across party lines. The Water and Land Legacy amendment simply seeks to hold the environment harmless.
Since 2009, the Florida Legislature has provided only $23 million for the landmark Florida Forever program, a 97.5 percent reduction from previous funding levels. State appropriations for land management and ecological restoration, including the Everglades, have suffered similar declines.
The news that conservationists have launched a grassroots campaign to amend the Florida Constitution to lock in 1 percent of the state’s budget for water and land conservation has produced some interesting responses from people who want to protect the status quo and oppose letting voters make this important decision.
We want to let the people decide if clean water and natural land are a legacy they want to leave for their children and grandchildren. And that’s what this amendment is all about: conserving land and providing recreational opportunities for Florida’s residents and visitors for generations to come.
First, let’s be clear about what this proposed amendment would do.
For 20 years, beginning in 2015, the amendment would dedicate one-third of the net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents to restore the Everglades, protect drinking water sources, and revive the state’s historic commitment to protecting natural lands and wildlife habitat through the Florida Forever Program.
The amendment would provide about $10 billion for water and land conservation in Florida over its 20-year life, without any tax increase. This dedicates less than 1 percent of our state’s annual budget to protect the drinking water sources important for human life, and the coastlines and natural lands that bring economically vital tourists to Florida.
Look at the numbers and you’ll find this is a common-sense proposal.
This year, the documentary stamp tax will generate about $1.3 billion. Of that, $622 million is already pledged to pay for existing environmental bonds and other programs linked to managing land and preserving water resources.
So almost half of “doc stamp” revenue is theoretically available for environmental spending, including paying off bonds. However, the Legislature doesn’t actually spend it all on land and water conservation programs. For the past several years, budget writers have raided environmental trust funds for other spending. The proposed amendment would commit just one-third of doc stamps to environmental purposes, and that hardly seems greedy.
Certainly, in lean times everything had to endure cuts. But environmental programs were cut disproportionately, despite the fact that respected leaders of both parties have long recognized that Floridians want to protect the water and land we rely on for our quality of life. If the Legislature follows through with current projections on the use of doc stamps, only $381 million – just 27 percent of doc stamps – will be available for land and water conservation.
If the Water and Land Legacy amendment is approved, then in the year it takes effect (2015) about $525 million will be available for parks, water resource protection, beach access and Everglades restoration. That is about 20 percent less money than will be spent on preservation bonds, land conservation, Everglades and management this year.
This all raises a common-sense question: What programs get cut, who gets hurt, if the Legislature is constitutionally restricted from diverting dollars that historically have been spent on the environment? The answer: No one gets hurt, no taxes go up and no programs get cut.
Last week the Florida Park Service celebrated a major increase in visitors to the state’s award-winning parks. Those parks did not buy themselves. They exist because 10 and 20 and 30 years ago voters and legislators had the wisdom to invest a small percentage of doc stamp taxes for that purpose.
Now, it’s just up to the voters. Visit FloridaWaterLandLegacy.org to learn more about this important effort and get involved.
Eric Draper is the executive director of Audubon Florida.
Published Tuesday, August 14, 2012