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AIF’s H2O Coalition says budget conferees should oppose state land buying efforts

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The business-backed Associated Industries of Florida’s H2O Coalition  ahead of Saturday morning budget conference meetings where lawmakers from both chambers will negotiate to create a final budget proposal for Gov. Rick Scott‘s consideration — weighed in on the ongoing budget talks, signaling their opposition to funding for acquisition of ecologically sensitive land favored by environmentalists.

AIF’s Senior Vice President for State and Federal Affairs Brewster Bevis issued a statement on behalf of the pro-industry water policy advocacy group in which he said the state ought to jettison previous plans to buy land south of Lake Okeechobee owned by U.S. Sugar which lies upstream from the Everglades.

“On the issue of land buying, we are mindful that 28 percent of the land in Florida is under government ownership and the state is challenged to manage what we already own,” said Bevis in a release. “The tens of millions we spend annually is only a fraction of the cost needed to manage this property, so additional land buying will only burden the state further.

“Supporters of buying land at all costs are specifically pointing to buying up more land with money the state doesn’t have, including land south of Lake Okeechobee. A closer look at the science shows there is little evidence it will actually provide any significant benefits.”

Anticipating Amendment 1-related constitutional criticisms from environmentalists who favor the Lake Okeechobee land deal — and a more expansive vision for Florida’s state-managed lands in general — Bevis stated that a more restrained approach, particularly nixing the Lake Okeechobee acquisition, is within the spirit of the popular 2014 ballot initiative:

“We believe both chambers are appropriately exercising the ‘complete discretion’ backers of Amendment 1 mentioned when they advocated for it before the Florida Supreme Court in 2013,” wrote Bevis.

The group also highlighted priorities in both chambers’ current budget proposals — including increased funding to $25 million for “working lands” like the Rural and Family Lands Program in the House budget — and applauded the thrust of their efforts thus far.

“The H2O Coalition appreciates the thoughtful approach the Legislature is taking to spend Amendment 1 dollars carefully and with an eye to our economic future.”

Legislative budget conferees will meet on agricultural and environmental funding projects Saturday morning.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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