Fred Grimm

Fred Grimm: From Florida Forever to Florida hardly at all

Want to know the difference between the governor and Amendment One? Rick Scott received 1,365,515 fewer votes.

The Water and Land Conservation Initiative was the biggest vote getter on the November ballot, approved by 74.9 percent of the voters.

Most of the 4,230,858 who voted “yes” assumed — wrongly as it turned out — that they were voting to guarantee a funding stream for Florida Forever, the land acquisition program that allows the state to buy wildlife habitat and protect water resources.

Less than four months later, the state Senate responded to this outpouring of public sentiment with a bill that would cut the current Florida Forever budget by 84 percent.

You can understand how Floridians might be confused, given that the ballot summary for Amendment One promised 33 percent of the state’s real estate tax collections would be earmarked to “acquire, restore, improve and manage conservation lands including wetlands and forests; fish and wildlife habitat; lands protecting water resources and drinking water sources.”

But Tallahassee regards voter-approved constitutional amendments in Florida as no more than irksome expressions of an ignorant public, best ignored or circumvented.

In 1996, Florida citizens enacted a constitutional amendment designed to force Big Sugar to pay the cost of cleaning up the awful mess it made in the Everglades. Except Big Sugar's buddies in Tallahassee never got around to passing the enabling legislation.

Since voters approved an amendment in 2002 to limit the number of kids crammed into a classroom, lawmakers have been whittling away. A bill floating around this session would redefine “class size” as a school-wide average for children in a classroom.

Voters passed the Fair Districts amendments in 2010, aimed at curtailing gerrymandering. Well, it’s 2015 and state lawmakers still haven’t come up with a court-approved redistricting map.

But the bill that passed out of the Senate General Government Appropriations Subcommittee last week was stunning in its rebuke of voter intent. This year’s budget was chintzy enough, with just $17 million earmarked for Florida Forever, a program once allocated $300 million a year to buy preservation land. The Senate bill would cut that next year to $2 million.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, who chairs that key subcommittee, told reporters last week that Florida has all the public land it needs. “There are a lot of things mentioned in that constitutional amendment other than land acquisition,” he said.

“It says the word ‘land’ 18 times,” protested Pegeen Hanrahan, the former Gainesville mayor and deputy campaign chairman for Amendment One. She spoke last week at panel discussion on the amendment sponsored by the Bob Graham Center for Public Policy and the Gainesville Sun.

Former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham said, “The whole purpose of this effort was to reverse the drastic cuts in the Florida Forever program … now instead of going above the bare bones initiative of the recent past, they’ve cut it further. To recommend $2 million is an insult.”

But in Florida, voters are getting accustomed to such insults.

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