Environmental groups hoping the Florida Senate would do better than the House in respecting the intent of Amendment 1 were disappointed on Thursday.
The Senate’s appropriations subcommittee on general government, which is chaired by Sen. Al Hays, R-Umatilla, released its $4 billion spending plan for next year. It includes the Senate’s plan on following the new constitutional amendment, passed overwhelmingly by voters in November, that requires 33 percent of documentary stamp revenues be spent to buy, restore, improve and manage conservation lands.
The Senate proposes spending $714.2 million on Amendment 1, which is about $58 million less than what the House proposed and $43 million less than what Gov. Rick Scott set aside for it.
The Senate’s proposed budget includes just $2 million to fund land acquisition under Florida Forever, an 84 percent cut from this year’s budget, which passed before Amendment 1 was approved..
Florida Forever was created in 1999 to allocate funds for public land acquisition and was initially authorized to spend $300 million a year. But since the recession, it has struggled. In 2011, it wasn't funded at all. In this year’s budget, lawmakers set aside $17 million, of which $5 million went to deals with private landowners.
Yet this year’s proposal of $2 million, just months after Amendment 1 passed, is an affront, said Will Abberger, chair of the Amendment 1 sponsor committee.
“The intent of the 4.2 million voters who voted Yes for Amendment 1 was clear: fund the Land Acquisition Trust Fund for the acquisition of parks and natural areas,” Abberger said. "The Senate’s budget proposal appears to ignore the very reason that Florida voters approved Amendment 1.”
The Senate’s spending plan includes money for agency operations and other expenses that were never intended to be funded by Amendment 1, said Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida’s Water and Land Legacy, the sponsor committee for Amendment 1.
“We are deeply disappointed by this proposal,” Moncrief said. “There’s no way that anyone could have read the Amendment and consider this budget to be adequate.”
The Senate version was especially disappointing for Amendment 1 supporters Senate leaders had promised an upgrade from the House version.
On Wednesday, the Senate’s appropriations chair, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said the upper chamber’s version would be more inclusive.
“We’ll end up with a much more balanced approach, to make sure all of the stakeholders involved in Amendment 1 have some outcome that they were hoping for when those expectations were set,” Lee said.
That appears not to be the case, however.