Midterm elections are this Tuesday. Florida voters will be voting for governor, along with three proposed amendments.
When the economy underwent a downturn in 2008, legislators began sweeping trust funds and diverting money used on land preservation and conservation to other causes. But when the economy recovered, the money was never restored. So enough signatures were collected on petitions throughout the state to place Amendment 1 on the ballot.
It would dedicate one-third of fees collected on real estate transactions to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. The fund buys environmentally sensitive lands for preservation and recreation.
While some say Amendment 1 is being overshadowed by other more controversial issues, Will Abberger, Campaign Manager for Florida's Water and Legacy says he isn't worried about more popular topics being on the ballot.
“You know, the governors race is very important for the future of our state, obviously. And it's a hotly contested race, so yes, that's received a lot of attention. Amendment 2 some might consider it a little more sexy than Amendment 1,” Abberger said. “But, we believe that Florida voters understand the importance of clean water, they understand the importance of setting aside our remaining areas of wildlife habitat.”
Kurt Wenner, Vice President of Tax research at Florida Tax Watch, says past events show the amendment might not even be necessary.
“One thing that we've seen in our analysis is that the legislature has actually spent more money on things that are covered under the amendment than would be required under the amendment in 5 of the last 11 years,” Wenner said. “So we don't necessarily think this will mean that you will have increased spending in these areas.”
Mike Jefferis, Parks and Recreation Director for St. Petersburg, says that it is important to preserve our land, because once it’s gone, there is no getting it back.
“You know, I think the bottom line is, you only get 1 swing at it, you only get 1 shot,” Jefferis said. “When the property is gone, when it has been developed, when it is turned over and it is in the private hands, my dad always told me, land is important, preserve is important, they're not making any new land, they're not making new preserve, so it's sorta our one shot.”
But, Wenner says there are ways to do this without taking away financial flexibility from the legislature.
“We feel they are more legislative decisions and shouldn't be in the constitution, anything in this could be done through statutes and by putting it in constitutional concrete,” Wenner said. “It kinda ties the hands of the legislature in terms of budget decision, what it's meant to do is provide a stable funding source for environmental programs.”
Amendment 1 would not increase or decrease state revenues or taxes, however, Jefferis says no result is going to make everyone happy
“I think there is a concern because anytime that you, let's face it, we're not talking about net new money, so we're not talking about an increase in taxes or fees or what not, so certainly that money is being redirected,” Jefferis said.
According to several polls, a solid majority of voters support Amendment 1 - more than the 60 percent needed to make it law.