News

Lawmakers at loggerheads over buying land for conservation

Published originally by Miami Herald, Michael Auslen on June 08, 2015

TALLAHASSEE: While lawmakers continue to grapple over how to spend more than $700 million directed by taxpayers for conservation, they’ve made one point clear: Florida will spend just a fraction of that pending windfall on buying land to protect.

The current proposals from the House and Senate include $26.8 million and $57 million, respectively, on land buys.

That may seem like a big gap to bridge, but to some lawmakers and environmentalists, the real problem is that both numbers are far too low. Eric Draper, executive director of the Florida Audubon Society, said even the Senate’s request amounts to a few square miles of new land for conservation.

“We fall way, way, way short,” said Sen. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge, who is among the camp urging more than $300 million a year be spent on buying land to preserve. “There’s a strong public mandate.”

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Remember the lottery? Florida politicans may try the same shell games with the environment

Published on June 06, 2015

Most Floridians are painfully familiar with the Florida Lottery shell game.

It was the political con of the century — one that involved tens of billions of dollars.

It started in 1986 when voters were told that, if they approved a lottery, the money would go to education.
We even called it "The Education Lottery." That way, when you plunk down 10 bucks for a scratch-off, you're not really gambling … you're donating to a scholarly cause. How altruistic of you.

Well, folks started "donating" by the droves. A billion bucks. Then $10 billion. Then $20 billion ... all of it supposed to improve our schools.

But Floridians didn't notice much change in education. We still had one of the lowest-funded school systems in America. We still do.

In fact, 20 years after the lottery started, the Sentinel did an investigation and determined that education funding had actually dropped from 59 percent of the state budget in 1987 to 51 percent in 2007.

Yes, after the "Education Lottery" raised billions of dollars, the percentage actually went down.

How? Well, politicians played shell games.

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Graham: Fight to save the Everglades

Published originally by Tampa Bay Times, Bob Graham on May 29, 2015

On Dec. 6, 1947, President Harry Truman was in Florida to celebrate the end of a 30-year struggle and to warn us about the future.

"Today we marked the achievement of another great conservation victory," said Truman in a speech dedicating Everglades National Park.

"The battle for conservation cannot be limited to the wining of new conquests," he warned. "Like liberty itself, conservation must be fought for unceasingly to protect earlier victories."

Never have a president's words of caution — the need to protect earlier victories — been more appropriate than today.

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Legislature not increasing environmental protection despite Amendment 1 mandate

Published originally by TCPalm, Isadora Rangal on May 27, 2015

When 75 percent of Florida voters passed Amendment 1 last year, supporters hoped it would be a mandate for lawmakers to increase spending on land and water conservation to spare the environment from development before it’s too late.

It was not. Lawmakers have different designs on the money, according to the House and Senate budget proposals that will be hammered out in the three-week special session that starts Monday.

SCROLL DOWN FOR AN EXPLANATION OF HOW THEY WANT TO SPEND THE MONEY. VOTE AND TELL US IF IT'S A PROPER USE OF AMENDMENT 1 DOLLARS. 

Only 1 percent to 2 percent of this year's estimated $750 million pot would go to Florida Forever, the conservation land-buying program Amendment 1 was meant to revive after lawmakers gutted its $300 million annual budget during the recession. The House proposed $8 million for it; the Senate, $15 million.

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State budgets divert environmental money to routine expenses

Published originally by Sun Sentinel, David Fleshler on May 09, 2015

The directive from Florida voters was clear: By a 75 percent majority, they approved a proposal in November to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to buy and protect unspoiled land.

So what does the state Legislature plan to do with the money? Wages for officials who regulate fish farming, new patrol vehicles for wildlife officers, salaries in the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, funds for law enforcement officers to ticket speeding boaters and other routine expenses.

Just a fraction of the anticipated $750 million land-buying fund would go toward the purchase of environmentally sensitive land, such as tropical hammocks in the Keys or ranchlands inhabited by Florida panthers.

The Republican-controlled House and Senate propose to channel the largest chunk of the land preservation money — more than $230 million — to routine expenses previously funded through other sources.

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Out of session's ashes rises hope for environment

Published originally by Tallahassee Democrat, Paula Dockery on May 03, 2015

This has been an awful legislative session for Florida’s environment. But it wasn’t supposed to be that way. The future looked so bright just a few months ago.

After years of the Legislature shortchanging popular environmental programs like Florida Forever and Everglades restoration, citizens that care about protecting and managing our natural resources put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that would guarantee those programs would be funded.

It passed overwhelmingly with an incredible 75 percent of the vote. To put that in perspective, Gov. Rick Scott was re-elected with a mere 49 percent of the vote.

The amendment changed the Florida Constitution to commit hundreds of millions of dollars for conservation programs for land acquisition and management annually. It set a specific percentage of an existing real estate tax to be applied to underfunded programs like Florida Forever, Everglades restoration and springs protection.

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Editorial: Second chance

Published originally by Gainesville Sun on May 03, 2015

Florida House members bailed on the legislative session before passing a budget, but their inability to perform their most important duty isn’t all bad news.

Their failure to approve a budget has left Amendment 1 funding still to be set. Hopefully the pause before the Legislature reconvenes in a special session will give lawmakers time to boost funding for land acquisition above the disgraceful levels that had been considered.

An overwhelming 75 percent of voters approved Amendment 1 in the fall, only to see lawmakers deviate from its clear purpose of dedicating more funding toward land conservation. The latest House and Senate budgets would spend less than $20 million for the purchase of parks and wildlife habitat under the Florida Forever program.

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Editorial: Legislators ignore voter intent on Amendment 1

Published originally by Tampa Bay Times on April 27, 2015

Few betrayals of the public trust have played out so openly and brazenly as the Florida Legislature's fraudulent effort to implement Amendment 1, the land-buying measure that three-fourths of voters overwhelmingly approved five months ago. This should be a banner year for protecting the state's endangered lands. Instead, Amendment 1 is becoming a bait-and-switch that would take Florida back — not forward — in saving its natural resources.

Supporters saw Amendment 1 as a way to force lawmakers to boost and stabilize environmental funding after years of Republican cost-cutting in Tallahassee. By dedicating a portion of documentary stamp tax proceeds to land buys and other environmental programs, the amendment will generate $740 million in 2015-16 and $1.6 billion in its 20th year. But even as it pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into the pipeline, lawmakers have cut back. They are proposing paltry sums for land buys and restoration while committing new money to water development and other projects that will not revive the ecosystem.

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Legislators 'Thwarted The Will Of The Voters' On Amendment 1, Backers Say

Published originally by Rick Stone, WLRN on April 26, 2015

For a lot of Florida voters and a lot of environmentalists, one of the big disappointments of this chaotic legislative session is the apparent fate of Amendment 1. That's the ballot initiative that makes three-quarters of a billion dollars available every year to buy and protect sensitive lands. But it's a shopping trip the Legislature doesn't feel like making.

A constitutional amendment is just a broad statement of purpose. How it works in real life is determined by the Legislature. In this case, Amendment 1 set aside about $750 million dollars a year for land purchases from a state tax on real estate transactions. As budget talks began, amendment sponsors knew there would be special interests to appease. They were prepared for legislative chicanery that would misappropriate part of the money to existing expenses under some environmental pretense. All of that was built into their projections, which supposedly were a productive of legislative savvy and Tallahassee wisdom.

Aliki Moncrief, executive director of the Florida Water and Land Legacy, which united several environmental organizations to bring Amendment 1 to the 2014 ballot, began to count on a modest first-year land buying program of $155 million.

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Amendment 1 intent in jeopardy, backers say

Published originally by Jeff Burlew, Tallahassee Democrat on April 25, 2015

When environmental leaders across the state decided to push for a constitutional amendment generating billions to buy conservation lands, one of their key goals was to replenish the Florida Forever fund.

Under Florida Forever and its forerunner, Preservation 2000, the state purchased 2.5 million acres of environmentally sensitive land, including rare-species habitat, floodplains and fragile coastline, protecting them in perpetuity from development.

But Florida Forever, approved in 1999 and envisioned to raise $300 million a year for land acquisition, hasn't been fully funded since the 2008 legislative session. In 2009, after the recession hit and doc-stamp revenue from real-estate sales plummeted, lawmakers put no money into the fund. Since 2008, the program saw a 97-percent drop in funding.

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