Bruce Ritchie: Will there be any opposition to the conservation amendment?

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With a Florida Chamber of Commerce poll last week showing strong support for the proposed conservation lands amendment, the question lingers whether there will be organized opposition?

Amendment 1 would earmark one-third of documentary stamp tax revenue for 20 years to the state Land Acquisition Trust Fund. Supporters say the amendment is needed because state land-acquisition programs have been starved for money since 2009.

State analysts estimate the measure would provide $19 billion for environmental restoration and land-buying over 20 years, but supporters say the figure should be estimated at $10 billion.

While environmental groups have helped raise nearly $3 million for the campaign, House Speaker Will Weatherford, Senate President Don Gaetz and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam have criticized the plan.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce is the highest profile group to oppose the measure. Like Gaetz, Weatherford and Putnam, the Chamber says the amendment would tie the hands of future legislatures to make spending adjustments based on economic conditions.

While saying that the Chamber generally supports land acquisition, spokeswoman Edie Ousley declined this week to say whether her group will publicly oppose the measure or provide funding for opponents.

“As for our level of engagement on this effort, it’s not in our best interest to give away the battle plan,” Ousley said.

The Chamber poll last week showed that 78 percent of 806 likely voters responded in support of the amendment while 14 percent oppose. The measure needs approval of 60 percent of voters to pass.

There’s no organized campaign against the measure. United Waterfowlers — Florida announced its opposition in 2012. Executive Director Newton Cook told me this week that his group doesn’t think the state can spend $600 million a year on land conservation.

Based on past statements, Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Farm Bureau Federation seem like possible opponents. But spokespersons for both groups said they haven’t taken a position on the amendment.

Campaign Chairman Will Abberger said that any opposition likely would come from “anti-government circles,” who complain that the state owns too much land.

Amendment supporters say clean water, open space and protected wildlife habitat are critical to the state’s economy, tourism and its second-home housing market.

The amendment likely will be overshadowed by the race for governor and the amendment to legalize medical marijuana. Even so, supporters of the conservation lands amendment are producing television commercials featuring supporters of the amendment, Abberger said.

“We are running our campaign as if there will be organized opposition at some point — probably at the end,” said Abberger, who stepped down as director of conservation finance at The Trust for Public Land to run the campaign in support of Amendment 1.

Bruce Ritchie is an independent journalist covering environment and growth management issues in Tallahassee. He also is editor of Floridaenvironments.com.