Florida voters will decide funding guarantee for conservation initiative


By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog

MIAMI — Florida voters are being asked to guarantee funding for land acquisition and water conservation by changing the state’s Constitution.

GUARANTEES: Environmentalist groups wants to secure 33 percent of the document stamp tax collected for the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund to buy new land and protect water resources.

Amendment 1, The Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, seeks to direct 33 percent of the document stamp tax collected through property transactions and other financial documents to the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund, a fund that has acquired more than 2.4 million acres of land in the state.

Ray Judah, former Fort Myers commissioner and environmentalist, said Amendment 1 is critical to protect the “soul of Florida’s precious natural heritage.”

“For several decades, Republican and Democratic Florida governors have fully supported protecting our land and water resources by setting aside approximately $300 million per year for purchase of environmentally sensitive lands to protect potable water supplies, attenuate flooding, conserve wildlife habitat and enhance recreational open space” he said. “However, the Scott administration has steadily reduced (Florida Forever) funding down to $17 million per year since 2010.”

The governor is proposing to increase the budget to $150 million for the program, though environmentalists say they no longer trust campaign promises and politicians’ whims. They want a guarantees they can can only come from a constitutional amendment.

But David Hart, executive vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, says tinkering with the Constitution to secure permanent funding is a bad idea.

“Imagine, if every group that wasn’t satisfied with the amount of funding their special program got during the recession decided to do a constitutional amendment and mandate a certain amount of spending. How impossible it would be to balance our state budget?” he wrote on the chamber’s website.

Hart says Amendment 1:

  • “Forces the taxpayers of Florida to arbitrarily give the government control over more land than the state has the ability to manage and protect from invasive species.
  • “Ties the hands of the Florida Legislature in the event of a future downturn in the economy.
  • “Encourages other special interests to try to get their funding placed in the Constitution, potentially harming our elected state leaders’ ability to govern in a fiscally responsible way.
  • “Is not a responsible or effective way of protecting Florida’s environmental resources”.

If 60 percent of those voting on the amendment approve, the Land Acquisition Trust Fund revenue would increase from $648 million in fiscal year 2015-16 to $1.268 billion until fiscal year 2034-35, when the amendment would expire, according to the Conference of Estimated Financial Impact.

The Land Acquisition Trust Fund was created by the Florida Legislature in 1963 to fund the Outdoor Recreation and Conservation Program’s purchase of land for parks and recreation areas.

Funds from LATF are used to acquire and improve conservation easements, wildlife management areas, wetlands, forests, fish and wildlife habitats, beaches and shores, recreational trails and parks, urban open space, rural landscapes, working farms and ranches, historical and geological sites, lands protecting water and drinking water resources and lands in the Everglades Agricultural Areas and the Everglades Protection Area.

Early voting already is under way in Florida in advance of Election Day on Nov. 4.