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Gov. Rick Scott signs overhaul of water management policies (updated)

Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday signed sweeping changes to Florida's water management districts that he says will amount to a $210.5 million property tax cut for homeowners and businesses in 2012.

“This property tax cut allows families and businesses to use more of their hard-earned money in the way they see best, rather than having to send it to a government agency,” Scott said in a statement.

Scott signed SB 2142 in a ceremony at the South Florida Water Management District headquarters in West Palm Beach. Opponents of the bill accused Scott of being insensitive to the state's water shortage, as well as to employees who may lose their jobs as a result of districts' budget cuts.

"It is a bit of an insult to the people of South Florida for the Governor to fly down on his private plane to offer the average homeowner a tax cut that amounts to less than 50 cents a week, just as our region is experiencing a water supply shortage of such great magnitude," said Everglades Foundation CEO Kirk Fordham. "Since the water management district's mission is to protect our natural resources and water supply, I'm not certain that gutting the agency in the midst of a massive water criss is either smart politics or very good policy."

Last month, Fordham asked Scott to veto the proposal, arguing the state's water management policies already create a "depoliticized stage for water policy decisions." One of the changes would rob Scott of some executive power, Fordham wrote, as it grants both the Legislature and the governor the ability to reject the budgets of Florida's five water management districts. That power used to belong to the governor alone.

Rep. Jeff Clemens, D-Fort Worth, said Scott lacked leadership by signing the bill at the headquarters of a district that will have to scale back its operations as a result of the new law.

"Can you imagine the governor showing up to celebrate your unemployment?" Clemens said in a statement. "We can agree to disagree on the merits of the bill the governor signed. But to come to Palm Beach County and rub salt in the wounds of people who will soon go home to their families unemployed is insulting and unnecessarily cruel. A governor should care about EVERY Floridian who loses a job."

Here's Scott's release:

West Palm Beach, Fla. – Keeping his promise to reduce property taxes, Governor Rick Scott today signed legislation that will save homeowners and businesses throughout Florida $210.5 million on property taxes due in 2012. Senate Bill 2142 caps the taxes Florida’s five water management districts can assess on residential and commercial properties.

Across four of the five water management districts, property owners will save an average of 30 percent on their 2011-12 property taxes. Residents will see varying levels of savings, depending on where their property is located. Property owners in the Southwest Florida Water Management District will see the greatest savings. Savings for all five districts are as follows:

  • Southwest Florida Water Management District                  36% reduction
  • South Florida Water Management District                          30% reduction
  • St. Johns Water Management District                                 26% reduction
  • Suwannee River Water Management District                      8% reduction
  • Northwest Florida Water Management District                       No increase

In addition, citizens will have more access to information about each water management district’s budget.  Each district is required to provide a monthly financial statement to its governing board and make the information available to the public on the district’s website.

“This property tax cut allows families and businesses to use more of their hard-earned money in the way they see best, rather than having to send it to a government agency,” Governor Scott said.  “In addition, with access to more information about their water management district’s budget, property owners will be able to hold them accountable for how every tax dollar is spent.”

A map of Florida’s water management districts is available here.