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.
Yes, they spent the lottery money on schools. But they took money they had previously spent on schools and started spending it on other things.
Admittedly, it was important things, like renovating the Legislature's dining room, but it was other things, nonetheless.
Now, we may be doing the whole sick shell-game thing again … only this time with the environment.
Last fall, Florida voters approved Amendment 1 to demand that Florida spend more on the environment.
The amendment didn't call for raising taxes one nickel. It was merely about prioritizing, forcing the state to set aside a tiny percentage of its massive budget for clean water, fresh air and preserved land. (Specifically, we're talking a third of existing doc-stamp taxes on real-estate, which equals about 1 percent of the state's $77 billion budget.)
It's hard to overstate how overwhelming the support was. Amendment 1 passed with 75 percent. No statewide candidate got anything close to that.
But Legislators are once again playing shell games.
For instance, the House budget proposes spending $38 million of this money on existing payroll for the state's park services and $40 million on existing forest services employees.
Gov. Rick Scott's proposal included $17.5 million for a wastewater-treatment project in the Florida Keys.
The Senate has $10 million for salaries in the Environmental Protection division.
Were you able to keep your eye on the pea? Did you see the shells move?
Most of those endeavors aren't new. None of them involve land preservation.
Environmental groups are crying foul. So are government watchdogs. The Florida Today newspaper in Melbourne took the rare step of running a front-page editorial last week demanding that lawmakers "Respect voters, Obey Constitution on Amendment 1."
Many critics complain there isn't enough money for Florida Forever land preservation — practically nothing ($8 million-$15 million) this year compared to the days when Jeb Bush was governor ($300 million).
I don't think we should be buying land simply for buying's sake. But I do think we need to honor the amendment.
That means protecting natural areas, restoring wetlands and cleaning up our water supplies. Fixing the Everglades, improving the Indian River Lagoon and providing recreational trails.
There is no shortage of worthy ways to spend money in a state where water is both polluted and scarce enough that we have restrictions.
The amendment's title was clear: "Water and Land Conservation: Dedicates funds to acquire and restore Florida conservation and recreation lands."
And this time, those pushing it were smart. They included a provision that said this money can't be "comingled" with the general funds the state had already been using.
That means if legislators play shell games with this money, there may be grounds to sue them.
It needn't come to that.
Lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott are looking at a record budget. And they are free to spend 99 percent of it on education, roads, incentives, public safety, their own health-care plans — or whatever else they want.
They simply have to dedicate 1 percent to the environment.
It's what voters wanted — and now what the constitution demands.