From the very beginning of writing next year’s state budget, it’s clear one of the flashpoints of last year’s process will be rearing its head: how the state should spend money set aside by voters on Amendment 1 last November to buy and conserve land.
In his request for the 2016-2017 budget, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam proposes spending some of the $700 million-plus Land Acquisition Trust Fund on replacing old cars, fixing roads and setting up technology services for the state forest service.
Putnam’s request for next year asks that from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund:
* $337,842 be spent to replace a dozen old vehicles in the Office of Agricultural Water Policy.
* $2.8 million pay for road repairs and material for the Florida Forest Service.
* $3 million be spent on construction and maintenance within the Florida Forest Service.
* Shift $1.2 million into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to pay for information technology services.
Budget items like this drew furious responses in the last budget cycle — the first since 75 percent of voters approved Amendment 1 — from environmental activists that pushed the constitutional amendment to secure an annual pot of money to buy land and water and conserve it.
“A new truck is not land acquisition, it’s not conservation,” said David Guest, Florida managing attorney of environmental legal firm Earthjustice. “I fear that the leaders of our state government are seeing this as an all-purpose slush fund for anything that has an environmental tint to it.”
The agriculture department has asked to set aside money from Amendment 1 for the Office of Agricultural Water Policy and the Florida Forest Service because of changes made to the budget by the Legislature last year, Putnam spokeswoman Jennifer Meale said in a written statement.