Environmental Coalition Launches Drive to Save Florida Forever Land-Buying Program
The Florida Legislature has essentially gutted Florida Forever, the state's main land-buying program, starving it of any money needed to buy new environmentally-sensitive land during the past three years. And with no end in sight to the state's budget woes, that likely won't change any time soon.
But that's too long to wait for a coalition of the state's leading environmental groups. They have started a petition drive to get a referendum on Florida's ballot. If enough signatures are collected - and it passes the muster of at least 60 percent of the state's voters in 2014 - it would mandate that one-third of existing state revenues from documentary stamps - essentially taxes on real estate transactions - be dedicated to fund restoration and conservation efforts.
The coalition includes the Trust for Public Land, Audubon Florida, the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, 1000 Friends of Florida and Defenders of Wildlife.
Here's a couple of tidbits from their web site, Florida's Water and Land Legacy:
In 2012, the legislature allocated only $8.5 million to protect important water protection areas and conservation lands. Compared to the state budget of $60 billion, that means that for every dollar the state spends in 2012, less than two-hundredths of a penny will go to the Florida Forever program for water and land conservation. That’s less than $1 for every Floridian. The amendment would provide more than $5 billion for water and land conservation in Florida over the next ten years and $10 billion over the twenty-year life of the measure, all without any tax increase.
Here's the text of the proposed amendment:
The Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment
Water and Land Conservation - Dedicates funds to acquire and restore Florida conservation and recreation lands
Funds the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to support acquisition, restoration, and improvement of conservation lands including wetlands and forests; fish and wildlife habitat; lands protecting significant water resources and drinking water sources, including the Everglades, and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams; beaches and shores; outdoor recreational lands; and historically or geologically significant sites, by dedicating 33 percent of the net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents for twenty years.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE PEOPLE OF FLORIDA THAT:
Article X, Section 28, Florida Constitution, is created to read:
SECTION 28. Land Acquisition Trust Fund.--a) Effective on July 1 of the year following passage of this amendment by the voters, and for a period of twenty years after that effective date, the Land Acquisition Trust Fund shall receive no less than 33 percent of net revenues derived from the excise tax on documents, as defined in the statutes in effect on January 1, 2012, after the Department of Revenue first deducts a service charge to pay the costs of the collection and enforcement of the excise tax on documents.
b) Funds in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund shall be expended only for the following purposes:
1) As provided by law, to finance or refinance the acquisition and improvement of land, water areas, and related property interests and resources for conservation lands including wetlands, forests, and fish and wildlife habitat; lands that protect significant water resources and drinking water sources, including lands protecting the water quality and quantity of rivers, lakes, streams, springsheds, and lands providing recharge for groundwater and aquifer systems; lands in the Everglades Agricultural Area and the Everglades Protection Area, as defined in Section 7(b) of Article II; beaches and shores; outdoor recreation lands, including recreational trails, parks, and urban open space; rural landscapes; historic, archaeological, or geologic sites; management of lands acquired; together with the restoration of natural systems related thereto; and the enhancement of public access and recreational enjoyment.
2) To pay the debt service on bonds issued pursuant to Article VII, Section 11(e).
c) The moneys deposited into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund as defined by statutes in effect on January 1, 2012, shall not be or become commingled with the General Revenue Fund of the state.