It’s hard to tell what leaders in the Florida Legislature have the most disregard for: the environment or the voters who overwhelmingly told them in November that they wanted the state’s natural resources to be protected and preserved.
Right now, it’s a toss-up.
Lawmakers are already making plans to undercut voters’ demand that, for 20 years, one-third of the revenues raised through documentary stamp taxes — paid during property transactions — be used to preserve environmentally sensitive land and to improve water quality in the state. Voters approved the constitutional amendment — Amendment 1 — on Election Day last month. It is poised to raise between $300 million and $500 million over two decades, with the money dedicated to the state’s environmental wellbeing.
In fact, 75 percent of voters said Yes. What comes next, however, might be part of a well-worn script that lawmakers have followed for decades, and almost always to the detriment of the state and its residents. Sad to say, we saw it coming.
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According to reporter Mary Ellen Klas, of the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau, the Senate’s Republican leadership already is preparing to undermine the amendment’s intent. After all, $500 million is an awful lot of money, ripe for the picking in legislators’ eyes. Worse, it’s apparently payback time for advocates and Floridians who, for good reason, sought to restrict lawmakers’ ability to divert the funds.
Senate President Andy Gardiner says that there will be some “pain” as lawmakers write implementation language: “The challenge facing this Senate is the impact Amendment 1 will have on transportation, affordable housing, and economic development, and other priorities which also receive doc stamp funding,” he said last week.
Amendment 1 supporters, however, counter that lawmakers have already so drastically cut money for environmental-preservation programs — practical, perhaps, during the recession, but now, not so much — that the doc-stamp money could fully fund the cuts made, with little harm to the other areas for which the money is used.
In other words, there is no need to impose new legislation here. The preservation programs already exist — just add funding.
For decades, unfortunately, successive legislatures have flouted the will of the voters and dismissed the intent of any number of funding programs. Remember the lie that Florida Lottery funds would enhance education, not replace funds already in use? Trust funds, such as the Sadowski program to provide affordable housing, have been continually raided for other purposes.
Ms. Klas’ story makes clear that funds for environmental preservation weren’t treated any better. Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature repeatedly hacked away at programs that protect fragile springs and watersheds. They shut down the division of the Department of Environmental Protection responsible for land acquisition.
Funding for Florida Forever, which buys land to protect water and habitat, plummeted to less than $29 million during the past four years from $300 million.
This summer, incumbent Republican lawmakers running for reelection made clear their disdain for the proposal to the Editorial Board, with several saying that Amendment 1 would tie their hands.
But that’s exactly the point. Voters got it. We’re pretty sure that lawmakers get it, too. They shouldn’t pretend that they don’t.