Legislators differ on how to protect Florida land from rising seas and future development
The House and Senate began putting together budget proposals to address such issues as Everglades restoration and land acquisition.
Initial House and Senate budget proposals are hundreds of millions of dollars apart on efforts to preserve land from future development and protect areas from rising seas.
But the House and Senate agree on spending $50 million for beach renourishment, with another $50 million for springs restoration. Both call for spending more than $30 million to fight toxic algae blooms and have proposed more than $500 million for drinking-water and wastewater grants.
Also, both start with more than $1.1 billion going to the Everglades and various water projects across the state.
“The governor has set a goal of funding for Everglades restoration and water quality issues of $3.5 billion over the next four years,” Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Chairman Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, said Tuesday. “Our committee recommendations include over a billion (dollars) for those issues, so we're well over 25 percent of the way there in year one.”
House and Senate budget panels this week released initial proposals for the 2023-2024 fiscal year, which will start July 1. In the coming weeks, the House and Senate will pass budget plans and then enter negotiations on a final version.
After the initial Senate environmental proposal was released, Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boca Raton, suggested lawmakers address the potential impact of a 5,000-mile seaweed blob in the Atlantic Ocean that is expected to wash onto beaches across South Florida over the next few months.
“There’s something that we haven’t encountered that we might want to consider as we move forward,” Berman said. “I think we might want to look into some efforts to help cities and counties clean up.”
The initial Senate proposal calls for providing $564 million in Everglades funding. It also would provide $542 million for land-acquisition programs, including $300 million for conservation easements. Such easements protect land from development while often allowing farming or ranching operations to continue.
The House proposal would spend $568 million on the Everglades and $251.2 million for land acquisition. That includes $100 million in “recurring” money for land acquisition, which would help ensure that amount is also available in future years.
“We’ve done a lot of bonding in the Florida Forever program, but as a recurring program, we hope that it becomes a part of the base budget,” Rep. Thad Altman, an Indialantic Republican who chairs the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee, said Wednesday. “That’s a big step.”
Meanwhile, the House has proposed providing $320 million for resiliency issues. The Senate plan includes $140 million to address flooding and rising seas.
The House also has put forward $14.5 million for reef construction and protection, as Gov. Ron DeSantis has advocated for establishing a Coral Reef Restoration and Recovery Initiative.
Part of the reef funding would back legislation (SB 546 and HB 641) aimed at restoring the Osborne Reef off Broward County. That reef has been affected by millions of deteriorating rubber tires sunk into the ocean in the 1970s to create an artificial reef.
The House plan includes $3 million for the cleanup. The Senate wants to spend $4 million on the tire issue, as part of $15.2 million it would put toward reefs.
The initial proposals are about $20 million apart for citrus research, as growers continue battling against deadly citrus-greening disease.
The Senate proposal includes $38 million for citrus research, $5 million for marketing and $3 million for plant propagation and to develop new varieties. The House would spend $18.4 million for citrus research.