TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – The Senate doesn’t intend for Florida to acquire much land in the first year of increased funding under a voter-approved constitutional amendment aimed at land and water conservation.
The Senate General Government Appropriations Subcommittee on Thursday released a $714.2 million proposal, which was absent local projects and includes just $22 million for land acquisition, to meet the funding requirements of the November referendum known as Amendment 1.
Sen. Alan Hays, a Umatilla Republican who is chairman of the subcommittee, said the state might already have enough land within its preservation inventory.
Meanwhile, backers of the amendment were even more critical of the Senate plan then they had been of a House offering released Tuesday.
“It’s hard for me to understand what the Senate doesn’t understand about the words Land Acquisition Trust Fund,” said Will Abberger, a leader of the effort to pass the constitutional amendment.
The amendment specifically said money would go to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, and the House and Senate are advancing legislation that would pool all Amendment 1 money into the trust fund.
“It is pretty clear that Sen. Hays intended to leave parks and wildlife habitat out of his budget,” said Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper, a lobbyist on environmental issues.
“They have done everything that they can to shift agency expenses into the Constitution,” Draper continued after the meeting. “If they could find a way to pay for the towels in the executive washrooms with Amendment 1 they did it.”
Hays said the will of the voters is “open to interpretation” and that he’s been flooded with email and phone calls from people claiming the state doesn’t need to buy more land.
“There was a lot of other things listed in that constitutional amendment other than land acquisition, and we have funded a lot of other things other than land acquisition,” Hays said.
Of the land acquisition funding, $2 million would go to the Florida Forever program, and the rest would be used to pick up easements along the Kissimmee River to help reduce pollutants flowing into Lake Okeechobee.
The bulk of the budget proposal continues existing conservation programs, including agency costs and debt service for the Florida Forever program, Everglades restoration and water-management districts.
The Senate in the coming weeks will negotiate spending details with the House, which released a proposed $772.1 million package.
The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.