Arguing that lawmakers "defied" a constitutional mandate, four environmental groups filed a lawsuit Friday seeking to force the state to shift $237 million to help carry out a conservation measure approved by voters in November.
The Florida Wildlife Federation, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, the Sierra Club and Florida Wildlife Federation President Manley Fuller filed the lawsuit in Leon County circuit court against Senate President Andy Gardiner, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.
The case stems from voter approval in November of "Amendment 1," which requires spending a portion of a state real-estate tax on land and water conservation efforts. Environmentalists allege that a budget approved by the Legislature in June improperly diverts portions of the conservation money to such expenses as staffing -- an allegation that legislative leaders have disputed.
The lawsuit contends that the Legislature violated the state Constitution and seeks to force Atwater to shift $237 million from a state general-revenue surplus into what is known as the "land acquisition trust fund," which is used to carry out Amendment 1.
"The Legislature owes the people of the state of Florida a duty to honor and effectuate the intent of the voters in the use of the funds placed in trust under this constitutional amendment,'' said the lawsuit, filed by attorneys with the legal group Earthjustice.
"Instead, the Legislature violated its duty, violated the Constitution and violated the trust to which the voters dedicated these funds when it wrongfully diverted at least $237 million in trust funds to pay for general state expenses not allowable under the amendment."