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Scott seeks $55 million for springs protection

Gov. Rick Scott called on the Legislature Tuesday to spend $55 million in next year's budget for the restoration and protection of springs in Florida. He made the announcement in Tallahassee at an event honoring the work of 125 employees in the Department of Environmental Protection.

"We need to continue to protect our springs. They're part of our state parks. They're part of our heritage," Scott told reporters afterward.

That $55 million may sound like a lot of money, but the Senate is talking about appropriating nearly $380 for springs protection -- seven times as much as Scott's proposal. (The current budget that Scott signed into law last May included $10 million for springs protection).

The Florida Current has reported that a preliminary Senate bill would earmark 20 percent of the annual proceeds from documentary stamp taxes on real estate taxes for the program, which includes sewage hookups and improvements to septic tank systems.

Asked about the Senate strategy, Scott said: "I always look forward to what the Senate's going to propose, or the House." He waved off a reporter's suggestion that he's trying to recast his image as pro-environment in an election year, citing the settlement of long-running Everglades lawsuit.

"I'm proud of what we've done for our environment. There's always more to do," Scott said. 

Scott has been traveling the state, highlighting various parts of what he calls his "It's Your Money Tax Cut Budget." He plans to announce his complete 2014-2015 budget recommendations on Jan. 29 at the annual Associated Press planning session for reporters and editors in Tallahassee.

The governor's springs proposal dedicates $25 million in funding for water quantity and quality protection and restoration projects. He said the projects will reduce and eliminate nutrient impacts and ensure the proper flow to springs. Much of the springs pollution is caused by urban stormwater runoff, septic tanks, wastewater treatment plants and excessive use of fertilizer.

DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard said no list of springs projects exists. He said the state will rely on the expert advice of scientists who will suggest the best way to spend the money.

"Our focus is to look to the springs that are most in need," Vinyard said.

-- Steve Bousquet