The multibillion-dollar healthcare fight has been “sucking the oxygen” out of the Capitol and has taken attention off Amendment 1, Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee said on Tuesday.
Lee, the Senate’s chief budget writer, told reporters following an Appropriations Committee hearing Tuesday afternoon that “frankly, Amendment 1 is a big deal and deserves more attention than it’s gotten.”
Florida voters in 2014 overwhelmingly approved Amendment 1, a water and land conservation initiative that is expected to provide almost $740 million for programs in the 2015-16 budget. It is funded through a tax paid on documents at real estate closings. Thirty-three percent of the “documentary tax” is directed toward Amendment 1.
“One of the big unanswered questions is whether or not there’s going to be any bonding that’s done,” Lee said. Nearly $81 million was available for water and land projects because of bonding.
“If the Senate agrees to bonding, how is that money going to be allocated? Is it going to be allocated to land acquisition or water farming or whatever it is that’s being proposed…. We don’t have a water policy bill. I can tell you, it’s of some concern to us that we would pump a lot of Amendment 1 into a system for which there is no science to measure the process. That was a big component of the Senate water policy bill. But it’s early still in Week 1 of a three-week session.”
The Amendment 1 comments were made after Lee said that House and Senate were working through staff and were getting “a little closer” to agreeing to allocations. Lee said that, aside from healthcare funding, work remains to be done on Public Education Capital Outlay funding–money spent on educational facilities–bonding and Amendment 1.
The House and Senate have planned on having budget conferences the first weekend of the special legislative session.
The Legislature is meeting in special session because lawmakers were unable to agree to a spending plan for the state’s 2015-16 fiscal year.