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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – Backers of a ballot initiative known as Amendment 1 contend lawmakers “ignored” the desires of voters by using a boost in environmental funding to cover the costs of daily state operations while setting aside too little for land buying.
“Funding for springs falls short. Funding for the Everglades restoration falls short,” said Will Abberger, a leader of the successful drive to pass the constitutional amendment in November. “They’re shifting things that have previously been paid for, like agency operations, from general revenue to Amendment 1.”
House and Senate leaders late Monday finished negotiations on a state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1. In recent days, talk has circulated in the Capitol about possible legal challenges to the way lawmakers are carrying out Amendment 1, and Abberger said “we’re exploring every option we have.”
“To say that $17.4 million is adequate for Florida Forever out of $750 million available isn’t consistent with Amendment 1 and flies in the face of logic,” he 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 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 recession, so did funding for Florida Forever.
House Speaker Steve Crisafulli on Monday maintained that lawmakers followed the language of Amendment 1.
“I think the budget shows it covers the acquisition and maintenance of land and water,” Crisafulli said. “That was the overall premise of Amendment 1, and I certainly believe that what we put in play achieves that.”
The ballot initiative, which voters overwhelmingly approved in November, requires for the next 20 years that 33 percent of the proceeds from documentary-stamp taxes go for land and water maintenance and acquisition across Florida.
For the upcoming year, funding under Amendment 1 for such land and water programs will grow to more than $740 million, from around $470 million in the current budget year that ends June 30.
Lawmakers exited budget talks this weekend saying they had set aside $81.8 million for Everglades restoration, $55 million to buy land and $47.5 million in funding for restoration of the state’s natural springs. However, some of the numbers are hazy. The most notable is the $20 million allocation for the restoration of the Kissimmee River, of which about $2 million is anticipated for buying land.
The Senate rejected efforts by the House and some senators to increase money for land acquisition and to allow the money to be bonded to generate even more. A number of Republican lawmakers have argued that the state needs to first maintain the land already within public hands.
House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, said Monday he would support litigation over the Amendment 1 funding.
Pafford said that Republican leadership “does what it wants” and doing what people want “doesn’t seem to be a priority.”
“Amendment 1 is legislative malfeasance, and the state should be sued,” Pafford said.
The Amendment 1 budget decisions, however, drew praise from the H2O Coalition, which is led by the business advocacy group Associated Industry of Florida.
“This budget puts the needs of Floridians ahead of the wishes of those seeking to buy up land at all costs,” Brewster Bevis, senior vice president of Associated Industries of Florida, said in a prepared statement. “They are pushing an agenda that isn’t backed by science and one taxpayers simply cannot afford.”
The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.