TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – Florida lawmakers might lay out future water and land preservation efforts in a 5-year plan updated annually, similar to how transportation projects are prioritized.
The proposal will go before lawmakers during committee weeks leading up to the 2015 legislative session, which starts in March.
Since voters approved the “Florida Water and Land Legacy” constitutional amendment in November, lawmakers have heard from a growing number of interests about how the money — by some estimates $10 billion over 20 years — should be carved up.
Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, told reporters this month he supports creating a 5-year plan for the long-term water and land conservation projects.
“It allows local communities to plan,” he said. “It gives you some flexibility that if there is some land that needs to be acquired, you could do it in a partnership. Because everybody knows what that 5-year plan is.”
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican who has joined Gardiner in saying that water conservation and protection will be a priority during the next two legislative sessions, was more ambivalent when asked about a 5-year plan.
“The idea of a multi-year financial plan, similar to the Department of Transportation’s 5-year work program, is something that we have spoken of for some time now and is not a new concept,” Crisafulli said last week. “I believe it is an approach that we will vet through the committee process as we approach the upcoming session.”
The voter-approved constitutional amendment requires 33 percent of the revenue from a tax on real-estate transactions to go to land and water projects for the next two decades.
Supporters of the amendment say it will generate about $10 billion over 20 years, while the state appears to project higher numbers. A state analysis estimates the total would be $648 million during the fiscal year starting in July 2015 and eventually would grow to $1.268 billion by the 20th year.
Since the amendment was approved, concerns have been expressed about issues such as how lawmakers will define land-preservation or water-conservation projects, how the state will determine which of its “impaired” water bodies is most critical and how to approach the reduction of stormwater runoff and agriculture fertilizer use.
Eric Draper, state director of Audubon Florida, backed the idea of a 5-year plan.
“Instead of everybody in Florida hiring a lobbyist in Tallahassee and competing for money from the Legislature, you have a list of criteria and on an annual basis fund the most important things,” Draper said.
The concept of the constitutional amendment was spawned as funding diminished for the Florida Forever program.
Florida Forever, which uses bonds backed with revenue from the documentary-stamp real-estate taxes, authorizes lawmakers to spend up to $300 million a year for preservation. But as the economy went sour during the recent recession, so do did funding for Florida Forever.
“The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.”
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