Senate budget amendment would provide $350 million for land-buying

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State Sen. Thad Altman is backing up his criticism of Amendment 1 funding in the Senate’s proposed spending plan for 2015-16 with budget amendments to provide $350 million for conservation land-buying.

The Senate Committee on Appropriations on Wednesday is scheduled to consider the proposed $80.4 billion Senate budget in a meeting that starts at 1 p.m. in room 412 of the Knott Building.

Amendment 1, approved by voters in November, provides an estimated $741.8 million in fiscal year 2015-16 toward water and land conservation spending.

The environmental spending plan proposed last week by state Sen. Alan Hays, chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government, included $2 million for the Florida Forever land acquisition program and another $20 million for Kissimmee River restoration.

Altman, a Republican from Melbourne, charged last week that the proposal violated the Constitution and the intent of the 75 percent of voters statewide who supported Amendment 1.

On Tuesday, Altman told that his budget amendment would reinstate the Florida Forever land-buying program, which had received at least $300 million a year from 1990 until 2009.

He filed amendments to both SB 2500, the state budget, and SB 2502, the budget implementing bill. The amendments would provide $410 million in bond proceeds with $350 million going toward the Florida Forever land acquisition program, $15 million for state park improvements, $20 million for Kissimmee River restoration and $25 million for beach renourishment.

Another $41 million from Amendment 1 would go toward debt service to issue the bonds.

“The reason we have Amendment 1 is people supported that (Florida Forever) program,” Altman said. “It was an incredibly popular, successful program. What that (budget) amendment does is re-implements it.”

State Sen. Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, the Senate Democratic leader, filed an amendment that would transfer nearly $80 million to land-buying from other spending that she says doesn’t qualify under Amendment 1.

Altman said Joyner had taken a good approach. “It could be a combination of the two is the best option,” Altman said.

State Sen. Darren Soto, a Democrat from Orlando, told that he supports Altman’s amendment.

The choice of amendments, Soto said, “gives the committee options about whether they want to fund it (Florida Forever) year by year or whether they want to implement it through bonding over the long term.”

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