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Environmental groups criticize ‘hostility’ in Senate Amendment 1 spending proposal

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Environmental groups supporting Amendment 1 on Thursday criticized a Senate chairman’s spending proposal that provides $22 million for land acquisition.

Amendment 1, approved by 75 percent of voters in November, provides an estimated $741.8 million in fiscal 2015-16 for water and land conservation programs.

Sen. Alan Hays, chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government, on Thursday released a spending proposal that provides $20 million for Kissimmee River restoration land buying and $2 million for the Florida Forever land acquisition program.

“By providing only $2 million for Florida Forever, the chair is sending out a message of hostility to parks and wildlife habitat,” Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida, said in response to the proposal.

“The Senate’s budget proposal appears to ignore the very reason that Florida voters approved Amendment 1,” Will Abberger, chairman of the Florida’s Water and Land Legacy, said in a statement.

The budget proposal by Hays, a Republican from Umatilla, included $490.1 million for existing environmental spending in the state budget and paying off former land acquisition bonds. He also proposed $82 million for Everglades restoration.

On Tuesday, Rep. Ben Albritton, chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, proposed $205 million in bonding for what he described as land acquisition.

That included $100 million for water resource development by water management districts, $50 million for springs protection, $30 million for Kissimmee River restoration and $25 million for agricultural conservation easement.

Draper and other environmental groups also criticized the House proposal for ignoring the intent of Amendment 1 voters. And on Thursday, Draper said the House proposal of $100 million for the water districts appears to be for projects chosen by lobbyists rather than environmental land acquisition.

During the earlier Senate subcommittee meeting on Thursday, Sen. Thad Altman, a Republican from Melbourne, told Hays he thought the proposal violates the intent of Amendment 1. Altman said he would offer amendments to boost land buying.

Draper said the final budget could include spending that invites a legal challenge from environmentalists. But he said he is hoping for a better budget from the Senate and House than what has been proposed by the subcommittee chairmen.

“We also hope the governor engages with the Legislature,” Draper said. “He asked for $100 million for Florida Forever. We hope the governor engages with the House and Senate and encourages them to fund his recommendation.”

Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee. 

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