Florida Forever could become Florida Never if Republicans have their way. As Jim Ash reports, that’s how critics are describing paltry spending proposals in the House and Senate for what was once the nation’s largest wilderness preservation programs.
The same environmentalists who scored a landslide for Amendment 1 in November are watching their biggest priority die a slow death in the Legislature.
“Voters knew what they were voting for when the voted ‘yes’ to fund the land acquisition trust fund. The words acquisition appear in the text 18 times.”
Here’s Republican Chairman Alan Hays of Umatilla explaining why the Senate wants to spend just $22 million on Florida Forever, a $350 million item in its heyday.
“We already own, for conservation purposes only, in the state of Florida, 9 million, 405 thousand, 85 acres of land.”
He says taking more land off the tax rolls is fiscally irresponsible. But Democratic Senator Darren Soto of Orlando says there’s more at stake than a small percentage of an $80 billion budget.
“We have a huge wildlife corridor that still needs to be acquired. We have species that may disappear from this Earth if we don’t deal with these corridors, particularly the Florida panther.”
Senate Republicans agreed to bump Florida Forever spend to 50 million dollars. Meanwhile Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a South Florida Democrat, blasted House Republicans for proposing just 2 million dollars for Florida Forever.
“That’s just pathetic. And it really, flagrantly, thumbs their nose in the face of the will of Florida’s voters.”
Democrats hauled out political and economic arguments. Cutting Florida Forever funding dents the legacy of former Governor Jeb Bush, who enthusiastically signed Florida Forever into law.
And Sierra Club lobbyist David Cullen warns the ecology is an economic engine we ignore at our own peril.
“And then the state and all of the people in the state will be facing much higher costs because they’re going to have to replace those ecosystem services that they thought were free. They’re going to find out that they’re not.”
The House and Senate won’t begin serious budget negotiations until they take a final vote on their competing spending plans.