State Sen. Alan Hays on Wednesday sternly informed a Senate subcommittee audience that the Legislature had not neglected the environment in past years, and that Amendment 1 supporters may have misled Florida voters.
The ballot initiative, approved by 75 percent of voters in November, provides an estimated $22.6 billion toward water and land conservation over the next 20 years.
Hays made the comments while chairing a meeting of the Senate Subcommittee on General Government Appropriations during a discussion of bills to redistribute documentary-stamp tax revenue in the wake of Amendment 1. He spoke later after state Sen. Thad Altman said voters approved the measure in response to budget cuts for land acquisition.
“This Legislature has not neglected the environment,” said Hays, a Republican from Umatilla.
“We have funded it and funded it healthy,” he said. “So those who led you to believe we neglected it misled you, whoever you may have been.”
A leading Amendment 1 supporter said voters never were misled.
The debate came during discussion among senators over the effects of Amendment 1 on other spending, and SB 586. The bill redistributes the remaining $1.3 billion in documentary-stamp tax collections in fiscal 2015-16 after $757 million is set aside for Amendment 1.
Representatives of the Florida Transportation Builders Association and the Florida Housing Coalition objected to the bill. SB 586 next year would reduce distributions by $102 million to a state transportation trust fund and $110 million to an affordable housing trust fund.
State Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Democrat from Miami Gardens, said he would support the bill but had concerns about taking a chunk of funding out of affordable housing.
“I’m going to find who I think we should take a chunk out of and I’m going to come with a better proposal,” he said.
Altman, a Melbourne Republican, said Amendment 1 supporters would have preferred not to launch the ballot initiative except that spending for land acquisition had been slashed.
Florida had the largest land acquisition program in the nation from 1990 until 2008, when the annual funding of at least $300 million was reduced to zero.
Altman said the documentary stamp tax on real estate and other transactions was created during the 1990s to help pay for the Florida Forever land acquisition program and its predecessor.
“It was the Legislature that chose to stop funding Florida Forever utilizing the doc stamps,” he said. “And so it wasn’t that Amendment 1 took that money from the doc stamps.”
But Republican state Sen. Tom Lee of Brandon said his sense was the spending priorities of the Legislature shifted — and that’s what led to Amendment 1.
“It wasn’t that we weren’t spending money on environmental programs,” Lee said. “But you now have different priorities of how to allocate those resources towards environmental programs.”
And Hays said the Legislature, with a $5 billion loss in revenue because of the economic downturn following 2008, made a decision not to harm education and health care.
“In the light of transparency, I would suggest the voters did not know what was going on,” he said. “But now they are finding out.”
Clay Henderson, who is counsel to the group that put Amendment 1 on the ballot, said supporters never misled voters. He said the Legislature could use documentary-stamp tax revenue that now goes to the general fund for transportation and affordable housing.
“We told the voters this was not going to affect affordable housing and it still doesn’t have to,” Henderson said. “We didn’t mislead anybody — just to be clear.”
Likewise, Jaimie Ross, president of the Florida Housing Coalition, also said the Senate could use documentary-stamp tax revenue that is shifted to the budget for affordable housing to offset Amendment 1. She said HB 1291, passed by the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, does just that.
Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee.