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Florida Forever Funding Could Be Cut In Half

Florida Wildlife Corridor

Funding for the state's main land preservation program would be halved, if Gov. Ron DeSantis' budget proposals are adopted.

Some of the state's main environmental programs are on the chopping block, including Florida Forever, a key fund to acquire conservation land.

Governor Ron DeSantis' proposed budget includes $50 million for the preservation program - half of what it received last year.

Lindsay Cross is with the advocacy group Florida Conservation Voters.

"Investing in our conservation is a way to kind to balance the impacts we see in the environment from new development and new homes and businesses being created," she said.

Florida Forever is a trust fund paid for by real estate taxes. Cross says housing sales have been strong, so the program shouldn't be affected.

"Despite an overall downturn in the economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we've actually seen an increase in home sales and home values - enough that the land acquisition trust fund has more money in it than it did last year," she said.

Voters in 2014 approved a constitutional amendment directing at least one-third of those taxes to go to land and water conservation. Cross said that has been stymied by lawmakers, and used for management of existing lands.

"Our Legislature interpreted that (amendment) too broadly," she said. "And started raiding the land acquisition trust fund to offset expenses that used to be paid for through general revenue. And those are things like executive salaries and paying for the entire IT department.

"And so it was not what the voters intended," Cross said. "And what was the the goal of Amendment One, which is to protect land and water and to maintain it for the health of our ecosystems and for our communities."

Also, the Rural and Family Lands Protection program, which pays farmers and ranchers not to develop their land, received no money in the governor's proposed budget. Florida's Communities Trust - which goes to community-based parks, open space and greenways - is also set to get zero dollars.

And while state leaders are expecting a major shortfall is state revenue because of the coronavirus pandemic, DeSantis' proposed $96.6 billion budget is larger than last year.

Among other issues in his budget proposal, DeSantis is seeking $50 million for beach renourishment; $32 million for state parks; and $2.5 million to remove tires and other threats to coral reefs.

It also includes $625 million for Everglades restoration and other water-related issues and money to start a multi-year “Resilient Florida” program to address the effects of sea-level rise and flooding.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.
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