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Amendment 1 supporters aren’t giving up the fight for funding just yet

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In recent weeks, supporters of Florida’s Amendment 1 have become increasingly fearful that the Legislature was going to betray the will of the voters who passed the land-buying measure last November. The constitutional amendment calls for the state to dedicate a portion of documentary tax stamp proceeds to land buys and other environmental programs, and was slated to generate more than $700 million over the next year alone.

But instead, lawmakers in Tallahassee have been lowballing that amount, with the House agreeing to contribute only $8 million this year, the Senate $15 million. Gov. Rick Scott has proposed $100 million; Amendment 1 sponsors say they’ll settle for $155 million.

But that was before the session blew up yesterday when House Speaker Steve Crisafulli gaveled the session over, three days before its scheduled conclusion, killing a long list of bills, including funding for Amendment 1. But advocates aren’t throwing in the towel just yet.

“The Legislature needs to provide Amendment 1 funding to acquire and conserve Florida’s natural treasures,” says Will Abberger, the chair for Florida’s Water and Land Legacy, the sponsor committee for Amendment 1. “Florida’s population is growing again. Our one-of-kind natural resources are coming under immense development pressure. Legislators need to finish the job of protecting these key tracts before they are lost forever. The best way to do that is by funding Florida Forever.”

Florida’s Water and Land Legacy says that many priority areas identified for conservation under the Florida Forever program remain unprotected and vulnerable, specifically referring to the Green Swamp, which plays a critical role in replenishing underground sources of drinking water for Greater Tampa Bay and Central Florida communities. So far, only 39 percent of the Green Swamp has been protected.

“Amendment 1 was a clear mandate from Florida voters to fund the acquisition of land for parks and to protect wildlife habitat through Florida Forever,” adds Aliki Moncrief, director of Florida’s Water and Land Legacy. “So far, both the Senate and House have left Florida Forever basically unfunded. Voters expect them to finish the job.”

The Florida Forever program was signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush in 1999, reauthorized by the Florida Legislature in 2008, and until 2009 received $300 million annually. When funded, Florida Forever was highly successful in acquiring lands that protect the water quality of rivers, lakes, and springs, wildlife habitat, and provide healthy outdoor recreation opportunities for all Floridians.

Perhaps the rawest reflection of the animosity toward the will of the voters when it comes to Amendment 1 was expressed earlier in the session when Umatilla Senate Republican Alan Hays said he thought the state had plenty enough public land in Florida, and didn’t need to add anymore. “We don’t need to be known as the hoarding-land state,” he said during a meeting of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that allocates Amendment 1 money. “We need to be known as good stewards of the resources that the people own.”

Environmental advocates say that lawmakers can still address the funding for Amendment 1 during the special session of the Legislature that is scheduled to begin later this spring, though a date has yet to be announced.

“That will be the Legislature’s final opportunity this year to respect the will of the voters when they approved Amendment 1,” say advocates with Florida’s Water and Land Legacy.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at [email protected]

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