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Amendment 1 budget proposal prompts objections, heated exchange

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A Senate appropriations subcommittee chairman on Thursday presented a budget proposal that provides $22 million for land acquisition, prompting another Republican subcommittee member to charge that the proposal violated Amendment 1.

Amendment 1 is a conservation spending initiative approved by 75 percent of voters in November. In 2015-16, the measure will provide $741.8 million, or 33 percent of documentary stamp revenue, for water and land conservation programs.

State Sen. Alan Hays, chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government, recommended a $5.2 billion plan that includes $714 million for Amendment 1 along with a 5 percent reserve.

His proposal provides $20 million for land acquisition for Kissimmee River restoration and $2 million for the Florida Forever land-buying program.

When state Sen. Thad Altman, a Republican from Melbourne, asked how much was being spent on land acquisition, he got into an exchange with Hays, a Republican from Umatilla.

“I think it’s important,” Hays said, “that you and every other Floridian out there understand today the state and federal government owns for conservation purposes 9,400,000 acres of land for conservation in the state.

“My question is, how much is enough? You know, nobody yet has answered that question,” he said. “Then I follow that with how much is too much? Frequently people say there is no such thing.

“I beg to differ with you — there is such a thing as too much. Nine million, four hundred thousand acres for conservation purposes. I rest my case.”

Hays’ figures are correct but those conservation lands include nearly 750,000 acres of federal and state military bases, according to the Florida Natural Areas Inventory.

Altman responded, “You said that we’ve appropriated $22 million for land acquisition in this budget. I just want to point out for the record I think that not only violates the intent of the voters but it violates our Constitution.

“And as a person who not only supported Amendment 1 but is also sworn to follow the Constitution of the state of Florida, I cannot support a budget that does not meet the intent of Amendment 1 nor appropriates more money for land acquisition.”

“We’ll let the record reflect that,” Hays responded before ending the meeting. “That’s fine.”

Hays’ budget recommendation next will be considered by the full Senate Committee on Appropriations.

His recommendation for Amendment 1 spending also includes $50 million for springs restoration, which Hays said could include some land acquisition. There also was $49 million for Everglades restoration, $25 million transferred to the Florida Department of Transportation for recreation trails, $25 million for beach renourishment, $20 million for water resource projects, $13.2 million for land management and $20.6 million for state park maintenance and repairs.

The $741 million estimate for Amendment 1 is down from an earlier estimate of $757 million. The Amendment 1 spending includes $490.1 million for existing environmental spending and debt service.

Other budget highlights include $110 million for petroleum tank cleanups and $8 million for citrus greening research.

The budget includes no local water projects, compared to $100.5 million in a House subcommittee chairman’s proposed spending plan.

The House plan provided at least $10.5 million in revenue for bonding $105 million for land-buying that included springs, Kissimmee River restoration and conservation easements at the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Environmental groups supporting Amendment 1 earlier this week said the House ignored the intent of voters who supported the initiative. A Nature Conservancy representative said Thursday that the House approach is preferable to Hays’ proposed spending plan.

Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee. 

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