Florida Environmentalists Start Petition Drive for Constitutional Amendment Guaranteeing Funds for Environmental Protection Land Buys: News Release of the Week

by Rosa Eckstein Schechter
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This month, a new drive for environmental protection of Florida's natural resources began in a big way as the "Florida's Water and Land Legacy" campaign kicked off -- its goal: to insure there is money in the coffers to buy conservation land as well as recreation areas here in the Sunshine State by inserting this requirement into the State Constitution as a budget mandate.  It's a big deal, asking for big money, and therefore, it's our news release of the week:


Florida’s Water & Land Legacy Campaign Launches Constitutional Amendment Drive to Guarantee Funding for Environmental Protection in Florida

TALLAHASSEE––Aiming to provide a stable, dedicated funding source for the acquisition of conservation and recreation lands in Florida, a coalition of leading defenders of the state’s environment today launched a Constitutional amendment petition drive to ask voters to guarantee support for this long-term state priority.

“This will be the most significant vote in Florida for our environment in our lifetimes,” said Will Abberger, the campaign’s chair and the director of conservation finance for the Trust for Public Land. “We are launching a grassroots effort to let the people decide if clean water and natural land are a legacy we want to leave for our children and grandchildren––and generations to come.”

The amendment would take effect July 1, 2015, and for 20 years would dedicate one-third of the net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents to restore the Everglades, protect drinking water sources, and revive the state’s historic commitment to protecting natural lands and wildlife habitat through the Florida Forever Program.

Under the amendment, the monies deposited into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund will remain separate from the State’s General Revenue Fund. The amendment would provide more than $5 billion for water and land conservation in Florida over the next ten years and $10 billion over the 20-year life of the measure, without any tax increase.

The Florida Water and Land Legacy Campaign brings together the Trust for Public Land, Audubon Florida, the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, 1000 Friends of Florida, Defenders of Wildlife, and others. The campaign will reach out to gain signatures of at least 676,811 registered voters to put the issue on the 2014 ballot.

The Coalition notes that since 2009, the Florida Legislature has provided only $23 million for the landmark Florida Forever program. This is a 97.5 percent reduction in previous funding. State appropriations for land management and ecological restoration, including the Everglades, have suffered similar declines.

In 2012, the Legislature allocated $8.5 million to safeguard important water protection areas and conservation lands. In light of a state budget of $60 billion, that means that for every dollar the state spends in 2012, less than two-hundredths of one penny will go to water and land conservation––less than $1 for each Floridian.

“We are reaching out across our state to business leaders, conservationists, people of every age, ethnicity, creed, and political stripe, to ask them to protect what is fundamental to our economy and our quality of life in Florida––the land and water that makes this such a special place,” added Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida. “Florida Forever has been cut drastically since 2009. We can’t protect this state on less than a dollar per year per Floridian. It just won’t work.”

The Coalition sees the proposed amendment as a responsible remedy to counter the dramatic reduction in funding for environmental protection and preservation, without having to raise taxes.

“When it comes to dedicating funding to protect Florida’s environment, the Great Recession has led to a complete depression. State funding to protect our most precious natural resources has slowed to a trickle,” said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation, and a leader in the effort. “This amendment is not a tax increase. It is the dedication of an existing funding source back to its historic purpose. Passing this amendment will ensure Florida’s long-term traditional conservation values are secure and protected from short-term political pressures.”

The amendment would create Article X, Section 28, of the Florida Constitution. Under the amendment, Florida’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund would receive a guaranteed 33 percent of net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents. These funds would be dedicated to support financing or refinancing the acquisition and improvement of:

• Land, water areas, and related property interests and resources for conservation lands including wetlands, forests, and fish and wildlife habitat;

• Lands that protect significant water resources and drinking water sources, including lands protecting the water quality and quantity of rivers, lakes, streams, springsheds, and lands providing recharge for groundwater and aquifer systems;

• Lands in the Everglades Agricultural Area and the Everglades Protection Area, as defined in Section 7(b) of Article II of the Florida Constitution;

• Beaches and shores; outdoor recreation lands, including recreational trails, parks, and urban open space; rural landscapes; historic, archaeological, or geologic sites as well as management of lands acquired;

• Restoration of natural systems related to the enhancement of public access and recreational enjoyment; and

• Payment of the debt service on bonds issued pursuant to Article VII, Section 11(e) of the Florida Constitution.

The Coalition says support for environmental protection remains strong in Florida and is solidly nonpartisan. Since 1994, Florida voters have approved five of the six amendments proposed to the state Constitution related to conservation and the environment––an 83 percent passage rate. The average “Yes” vote for those successful conservation amendments was 68 percent.

Former Florida Governors Graham, Martinez, Chiles, Bush, and Crist all supported Preservation 2000/Florida Forever, Everglades’ restoration, and funding for land management. Historically, Democratic and Republican leadership in the Florida Legislature have supported funding for land and water conservation.

“Regardless of political party and in good times and bad, for more than 20 years Legislatures and Governors have supported these programs. Since the recent economic downturn, our water and land, our beaches and springs, have suffered greater cuts and more damage than almost any other area of statewide concern,” said Abberger.

The campaign will rely on volunteer signature gatherers and donors from across the state, and is urging supporters to sign up at floridawaterlandlegacy.org, or call 850-629-4656, or e-mail: campaign@FloridaWaterLandLegacy.org.

 

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Rosa Eckstein Schechter
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