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Senate passes plan to put water districts under legislative control

A Senate plan to allow the legislature to take over control of the state's five water management districts' spending and taxing passed the Senate Budget Committee without discussion, or public testimony.

The idea is the brainchild of Sen. J.D. Alexander, the Republican budget chief who also wants to cut water management district property taxes by $411 million this year.

"We have essentially adopted an out of sight out of mind approach to these entities,'' he said. He told the committee that he believes that the water management districts have exceeded their spending authority, although he acknowledged that the state constitution allows them to levy property taxes. For example, he said, his staff research found that the Southwest Florida Water Management District "had over $800 million in reserves."

"In my 14 years, I have had more complaints about water management district expenditures and taxation than anything else I deal with,'' he said.

The measure puts water district budgets under the Department of Environmental Protection. Alexander said he hopes the result will be to require them to "not tax folks as much: and to "make sure they are spending the money in a way we are accountable for."

Board members will continue to be appointed by the governor because, said Sen. Alan Hays, a sponsor of the bill, having them elected would result in a "popularity contest."

The idea to give the Legislature more control over the process was roundly praised by his Senate colleagues. "I think you're onto something really good here,'' said Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-Miami Beach.