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With Senate budget amendments teed up, calls flood senators

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Amendment 1 supporters on Tuesday were flooding senators with calls urging them to support funding for land-buying in advance of Senate floor action on the state budget on Wednesday.

In November, 75 percent of voters statewide supported the water and land conservation funding initiative that provides an estimated $741 million in the 2015-16 state budget.

The proposed Senate budget provides $2 million for the Florida Forever land-buying program and another $20 million for land acquisition for Kissimmee River restoration.

On Tuesday, Audubon Florida, Sierra Club Florida and 1000 Friends of Florida were among the groups sending emails to supporters urging them to voice support for land-buying.

State Sen. Thad Altman, a Republican from Melbourne who already supports more money for land-buying, said his office was busy taking calls from supporters.

Altman has filed an amendment to bond $300 million for Florida Forever land — along with $15 million for state park improvements and $20 million for Kissimmee River restoration.

He said it’s too soon to tell whether he will get the support he needs to pass the amendment. The Senate takes up budget amendments on Wednesday.

“This is going to be a challenge — I mean, it is — you are trying to amend the budget,” Altman said.

“It brings us into conformance with what the intent of Amendment 1 is,” he said. “I think it does some wonderful things for the state. It really will preserve some of those special lands we’re about to lose.”

Another amendment by state Sen. Darren Soto, a Democrat from Kissimmee, would take nearly $80 million from spending that Democrats say doesn’t meet the requirements of Amendment 1 and would put it toward the Florida Forever program.

Last week, Altman and Democrats filed similar amendments in the Senate Committee on Appropriations but withdrew them to avoid an early showdown. State Sen. Alan Hays, a Republican from Umatilla and the chief Senate budget writer for environmental spending, said the Altman amendment was out of order because it wasn’t fiscally balanced.

Altman said Tuesday the amendment is balanced because it uses revenue directed toward capital projects and uses it for debt service.

State Sen. Charlie Dean, a Republican from Inverness, said his office also was taking a lot of calls from Amendment 1 supporters. But he said there was a division among those who support more land-buying and others who support projects to protect springs.

“Where I look at it is a mixture of both,” Dean said. He is chairman of the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation.

Asked whether he will support either the Altman or Soto amendments, Dean said, “I consider their proposals but there are other proposals we are looking at.”

Those other proposals, he said, include looking at what lands are needed for conservation, development or water storage.

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

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