Florida Forever is tired of dealing with progressively stingy lawmakers — especially as the state faces a budget surplus.
Dismayed by the mostly low funding for the popular land conservation program, the environmental activists issued an email to supporters bemoaning the frugality of Tallahassee this year.
For example, while the Everglades came out ahead in the 2014 Florida Legislative Session, Florida Forever’s land conservation funding declined once again — down by 96 percent since 2009 to a meager $17.5 million.
As the state’s economy turns around, the email says, Florida’s commitment to protecting water resources, coastline and wildlife habitat remains fall far short of the levels truly needed.
“While Everglades restoration and South Florida estuary recovery were winners in the state budget,” said Florida Forever Coalition Chair Laurie Macdonald, “the Florida Forever land conservation program was short changed once again.
“Water and land conservation in Florida deserves a stable, dedicated source of funding.”
Macdonald pointed out that this year’s budget slight is a “perfect example” why voters must yes in November to Amendment 1— the group’s Water and Land Conservation Amendment. If passed, the constitutional amendment could generate as much as $10 billion over two decades.
Florida Forever funds this year as meant for water resource and military base buffering priorities, instead of the broader priorities set forth in the Florida Forever statute. Ten million dollars come from new funds, along with $7.5 million in trust fund reallocation and interest on existing Florida Forever funds.
There was one bright spot. Lawmakers set aside an additional $40 million from the sale of surplus non-conservation land.
But the sale must happen first.
About $5 million goes to easement agreements with private landowners for ranching and farming operations while stewarding resources. The remaining $12.5 million is for partnership purchases of easements and acquisitions for springs, water resource protection, or for military land buffering.
This leaves no money to meet the rest of Florida Forever’s agenda, such as urban parks and trails and wildlife management areas.
Faced with another budget disappointment in 2014, Florida Forever wants all citizens to understand the importance of resource protection, through a vote for Amendment 1 in November.
While many politicians promise conservation is a “top priority,” the folks at Florida Forever are quickly getting tired of promises.
And the longer the state waits to act, the more it will cost in the future.