House and Senate leaders touted water policy during opening speeches of the legislative session while Gov. Rick Scott again said he’s proposing more than required under Amendment 1.
And House Speaker Steve Crisafulli warned that he’s reluctant to support an increase in land-buying despite Amendment 1, the water and land conservation funding initiative approved by 75 percent of voters.
The 2015 legislative session began with the usual pomp and glad-handing but somewhat quieter than in recent years in the social protest department. Meanwhile, some Democrats said they want more for the environment than has been offered by Scott and Republican leaders.
Amendment 1 provides $757 million for water and land conservation in fiscal year 2015-16 and more than $20 billion over the next two decades.
Scott said his budget request provides $82 million more than required by Amendment 1. He is counting $50 million for water supply projects and $32 million for Keys wastewater plants that some environmentalists say shouldn’t count.
“The final thing we must do to out-compete the world is keep Florida beautiful,” Scott said. “Florida is an exceptional place — we have the economy and the opportunity to keep it that way.”
In response, the Florida Democratic Party issued a statement describing what they called Scott and the GOP’s “toxic environmental record.”
Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, delivered the first of the opening speeches by saying the House on Wednesday will vote on HB 7003, a water policy bill shepherded by state Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres and chairman of the House State Affairs Committee.
“We cannot solve Florida’s water challenges in one session,” Crisafulli said. “This issue will take a sustained commitment from this Legislature for years to come.”
And while saying the intention of Amendment 1 is good, he said there is more to stewardship than buying more land.
“Buying up land that we cannot care for, that falls into disrepair or becomes a breeding ground for harmful invasive species is not a legacy that I am interested in leaving,” Crisafulli said.
Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, echoed Crisafulli in stressing the need for transparency in how the Amendment 1 money is spent and about the need to address water policy and land management. Gardiner has been a proponent of spending money on bike trails including the Coast-to-Coast Connector across Central Florida.
“It’s not just the water — it’s the maintaining of these lands,” Gardiner said. “It’s the access for the public to those lands … as well as ecotourism, which I have talked about with bike trails.”
State Rep. Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach, the House Democratic leader, called for a return to the historic $300 million spending or more on the Florida Forever land-buying program, which is three times more than Scott is requesting.
“It (Amendment 1) specifically said the people wanted more dollars for consideration and protection of land and water,” Pafford said. “I don’t think we’re there yet. I don’t want any dollars supplanted. That’s what seems to be happening right now.”
Scott’s budget includes $156 million for what his office has labeled as continuing environmental programs.
Meanwhile, organizers of the “Awake the State” rally held each year at the Capitol since 2011 instead held a press conference inside the Capitol to call for a progressive agenda that includes more solar energy.
“What we say is if you’re not mad you’re not paying attention,” said Susan Glickman, representing the Floridians for Solar Choice’s proposed constitutional amendment.
Bruce Ritchie (@bruceritchie) covers environment, energy and growth management in Tallahassee.