Rick Scott avoids taking sides on conservation Amendment 1

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Calling it “the right thing to do,” Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet approved on Tuesday the sale of four decommissioned jails and three other sites, with the proceeds going to land conservation.

After the Cabinet meeting, Scott was asked if he would support or oppose Amendment 1, a measure to provide billions of dollars for land conservation.

He sidestepped the question.

“All the amendments, the public has the opportunity to vote, just like I do,” Scott said. “So we’ll see how it comes out.”

Scott’s noncommittal attitude is not necessarily bad for environmentalists, according to Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida.

Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper prefers Scott to remain “ambivalent” on Amendment 1 rather than having the governor joining legislators who criticize that it is an improper restriction on the budget.

“That’s a winning message for us, let the voters decide,” Draper added.

Among those who believe the proposal would “shift too much control” to the state are Senate President Don Gaetz. House Speaker Will Weatherford argues that “legislating via constitutional amendments” simply does not work.

Scott and the Florida Cabinet — Attorney General Pam Bondi, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater — approved sales of properties in Monroe, Volusia, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Hendry and Broward counties. Among those sold were former Broward, Glades, Hendry and Hillsborough correctional institutions, closed in 2012 as part of a consolidation effort.

The sales could bring in as much as $27 million, bringing the revenue from sales of non-conservation land to nearly $44 million this year.

November’s constitutional amendment, spearheaded by “Florida’s Water and Land Legacy, Inc.,” would set aside 33 percent of revenues from the documentary stamp tax, paid whenever real estate is sold in the state.  The money will be collected for 20 years to manage existing properties, acquire new conservation and recreation lands, protect critical areas for water supply and restore natural systems.

Passing a constitutional amendment requires approval from 60 percent of voters. If passed, the new law could generate as much as $10 billion, Turner writes.

Draper, joined by other conservation supporters, applaud the Cabinet’s action, but continue to insist that the current funding also remain intact.

Prompting the amendment were years of funding cuts in the Florida Forever program, which once used bonds backed with documentary stamp revenue, and authorized lawmakers to spend up to $300 million annually on preservation efforts.

The last year Florida Forever was funded at that level was 2008, Turner notes.

During the 2012 session, state lawmakers assigned $20 million for land conservation, establishing a surplus land-sale program under the guidance of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.