Several environmental groups and lawmakers gathered in four cities across the state Friday to ask for full funding from Tallahassee for Florida's main conservation land-purchasing program.
They met in St. Petersburg, Fort Myers, Gainesville and St. Augustine to support restoring money for the Florida Forever land conservation program.
Environmentalists want state lawmakers to enact a Constitutional amendment passed by three-quarters of Florida voters five years ago. The referendum mandated that one-third of fees from real estate transactions fund land purchases through the Florida Forever program.
But the program has been underfunded, and Gov. DeSantis is calling for only $100 million in his budget proposal. That's almost one-fifth the amount the Sierra Club says the program should get.
Tim Martin is the conservation chair for the club's Florida chapter.
“In an age of rapid development, coupled with virtually no growth management, we're experiencing massive loss of habitat and the potential for mass extinction and biodiversity loss, we simply can't wait any longer to protect high-priority environmental lands,” he said.
State Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, was at the event at the Florida Sierra Club’s St. Petersburg headquarters.
“It's about time we start doing what the intent of the voters - as I think was very clearly expressed in that amendment -- said, which is to provide a dedicated and sustained commitment to conserving our water and protecting our land in a thoughtful way,” Diamond said, “as we manage our state's growth for the next generation.”
Fully funding Florida Forever would constitute a sliver of Florida's total proposed budget, he said.
“One year is a blip on the radar. It’s not just this one budget, we need to make a sustained commitment to this effort. That was the idea behind the constitutional amendment that Floridians passed and supported wholeheartedly,” Diamond said. “We’re projecting again to write a $90 billion plus budget. The money is there, this is just a debate about priorities. This should be at the top of the list.”
A letter from 123 organizations and businesses was sent to DeSantis, Senate President Bill Galvano, House Speaker Jose Oliva, Senator Rob Bradley, and Representative Travis Cummings, urging restoration of full funding.