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Budget deal includes no money for Florida Forever

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The Senate accepted the House offer on the agriculture and natural resources portion of the budget, agreeing not to set aside any money for Florida Forever in 2017-18.

The $3.6 billion plan zeros out funding for land acquisition. Sen. Rob Bradley said the budget includes $13.3 million — $5 million of which is recurring dollars — for the St. Johns River and Keystone Heights Lake. Bradley called it a “huge win for the region and particularly the Keystone Heights lake,” saying with the recurring dollars there “is money to finance the project.”

The offer also included $13.3 million for beach recovery and $39.9 million for beach projects, on top of the $10 million base budget.

But the offer zeroed out funding for land acquisition.

“In 2014, Floridians made one simple demand of the Legislature: protect our remaining natural areas from bulldozers and build more neighborhood parks for our families. By zeroing out Florida Forever and Florida Communities Trust, this is now the third year in a row that politicians in Tallahassee have thumbed their noses at voters,” said Aliki Moncrief, the executive director of Florida Conservation Voters, in a statement. “To say that we are disappointed would be a gross understatement. And to the millions of Florida’s conservation voters I say: set up appointments to welcome your legislators back home next week and give them an earful.”

Sen. Jack Latvala said the funding was sacrificed to the House demand for a larger rainy day fund, now at $1.2 billion.

“As the father of Florida Forever, as the person who passed that bill, I’m obviously disappointed to have a year when I’m Appropriations chairman and not be able to fund it,” he said. “But it you look at the totality of our budget, and look at what we’re doing for Lake Okeechobee, the Everglades, springs, Lake Apopka, the St. Johns River, beaches … I believe you’re going to probably find there’s more money in this budget for the environment than we’ve had in a long time.

This story has been updated to reflect corrected funding amounts for St. Johns River and Keystone Lakes.

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