With a 75% percent majority, Amendment 1 was passed in November of last year. It was a confirmation of something many already knew, that Floridians are strongly committed to the health of our state’s environment, wildlife, water resources and water quality. The amendment was confirmation of the majority of Florida voter’s belief in good stewardship of the land under state management. Here was the precise text that was on the ballot in November – “Funds the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands including wetlands and forests; fish and wildlife habitat; lands protecting water resources and drinking water sources, including the Everglades, and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams; beaches and shores; outdoor recreational lands; working farms and ranches; and historic or geologic sites, by dedicating 33 percent of net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents for 20 years.”
Now the abrupt end to session in the Florida House, and the impasse in the Florida Senate is being used by environmental activist groups as yet another opportunity to fire up the spin machine that they have been running for the past several months. From celebrity concerts featuring Jimmy Buffett, to protests on the steps of the state capital featuring water bottles featuring green water from a yet unconfirmed location, the groups have worked hard to create the appearance of significant outrage. In the past week, opinion pieces and editorial articles have attempted to paint the land purchase of U.S. Sugar corporation land as the solution to every water and environmental concern in Florida, and any legislator who opposes it as denying the will of “the voters”. The tactic might be successful were it not for an important point against it. The legislators are doing their job.
A good many Florida legislators in both House and Senate recognize that the requirements for Amendment 1 apply to the entire state, rather than a single area. Florida Senator Wilton Simpson (R-18) made reference to that point in a recent op-ed article saying, “Voters all over Florida didn’t support Amendment 1 for the purpose of preserving one isolated area of the state. We have to evaluate and prioritize the usage and management of all of Florida’s water supply, not any one region.” He continued, writing “Amendment 1 will be in effect for 20 years. It is critical that we get the implementation right by using the best science. If any one area of the state becomes the solitary focus of this funding source, we have all missed the point.”
On March 3rd, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli expressed a similar viewpoint while addressing the House, saying “Buying up land we cannot care for, that falls into disrepair or becomes a breeding ground for harmful invasive species, is not a legacy I am interested in leaving. If we truly want to honor our beautiful state, then we should spend these early years making sure we can maintain the 5.3 million acres of conservation lands we already own.”
Rep. Katie Edwards gave thoughtful commentary on this issue to the Sun-Sentinel in February of this year. “Just two years ago this Legislature authorized and began the funding for an $880 million suite of projects that are designed to complete the water quality component of Everglades restoration. With the current footprint of artificial marshes coupled with on-farm best management practices, we have removed more than 90 percent of the nutrients. This final investment is designed to meet the state’s ultimate water quality goal.” Edwards wrote, “To date there are $5.7 billion of authorized and started state and federal projects with $3 billion already invested and $2.7 billion remaining to be funded. This doesn’t include the critical projects authorized by Congress in 2014.”
While environmental activist groups attempt to apply pressure to rush the legislature to an impractical purchase, many legislators seem to be doing exactly what they were elected to do developing a budget that serves the taxpayers fairly and according to the law that the voters themselves passed.
Though it is unlikely that the land purchase from U.S. Sugar Corp will take place, as was well reported by Christine Stapleton of the Palm Beach Post, due to cost prohibitions, and ultimately because the current Everglades restoration and protection efforts are already working, it is very probable that the environmental activist groups will continue their attempts to manipulate the legislature, circumvent the legislative process, and deny the voters the representation they elected.