In an effort to quell anger from environmental advocates who supported Amendment 1, the Florida Senate agreed to spend in next year’s budget $35 million for Florida Forever land acquisition and another $20 million for land acquisition for springs restorations.
“We want to send a message to those who supported the amendment and tell them, we hear you,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park.
That’s not the message those groups heard two weeks ago when the House and Senate released their proposed budgets.
The Senate's budget sets aside $2 million for the Florida Forever program, which was created in 1999 to fund public land acquisition and was initially authorized to spend $300 million a year. The proposed amount represents an 84 percent cut from this year's budget and $118 million less than what Gov. Rick Scott proposes.
The House says it has set aside $205 million for Florida Forever, but most of that money is actually tied to other projects, such as reservoirs, springs restoration and other programs, leaving only about $10 million for the land acquisition program.
Supporters of Amendment 1, which passed with 75 percent of the vote, say they intended that the money from documentary stamp revenue would be spent on land to be used as parks, wildlife habitat and trails. Groups like 1,000 Friends of Florida are asking members to call senators, who were supposed to have provided more money to Florida Forever.
“Please call you senator right now and ask him or her to support amendments to increase funding for Florida Forever,” stated a 1,000 Friends of Florida blast email on Tuesday.
Sen. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge, had proposed an amendment to provide $300 million for Florida Forever, but withdrew it after supporting Bradley’s amendment instead.
“The people of Florida rose up and got an amendment on the ballot,” Altman said. “I do think our budget falls short of the intent of that constitutional amendmemt. But this amendment moves us in a very positive direction.”
Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, had opposed adding any more money for Florida Forever, saying the state already had more than 9 million acres of land set aside for conservation. He added that Bradley’s amendment come at a cost: reducing by $10 million a plan to control invasive plants, eliminating money for hybrid wetlands.