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Amendment 1 supporters to House: Do your job

Senate President Andy Gardiner isn't the only one asking the Florida House to come back and finish the Legislative session.

The group who sponsored the environmental ballot measure that was supposed to steer more money next year into preservation and conservation is also getting on the House's case.

Florida Water and Land Legacy, the sponsor committee of Amendment 1, urged the House to "finish the job" in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon.

Here's the release:

This week the Florida House of Representative adjourned for the 2015 session without passing a state budget, leaving  the spending for conservation mandated under Amendment 1 in jeopardy.

Florida voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 1, the Water and Land Conservation Amendment, by 75 percent.  The current House and Senate budgets allocate only $8 - $10 million for the acquisition of parks and wildlife habitat under Florida Forever out of the $750 million available to be spent in Amendment 1’s first year.  Important natural areas have been languishing on the Florida Forever priority list since 2009 without funding.

“The Legislature needs to provide Amendment 1 funding to acquire and conserve Florida’s natural treasures,” said Will Abberger, the chair for Florida’s Water and Land Legacy, the sponsor committee for Amendment 1. “Florida’s population is growing again. Our one-of-kind natural resources are coming under immense development pressure. Legislators need to finish the job of protecting these key tracts before they are lost forever. The best way to do that is by funding Florida Forever.”

Many priority tracts identified for conservation under Florida Forever remain unprotected and vulnerable to poorly planned development, including the Green Swamp. The lands within the Green Swamp play a critical role in replenishing underground sources of drinking water for Greater Tampa Bay and Central Florida communities. The Swamp gives rise to four of Florida’s major rivers, including the Hillsborough River which together with the Alafia River meets nearly half of Greater Tampa Bay’s water needs. So far, only 39 percent of the Green Swamp has been protected.

“Amendment 1 was a clear mandate from Florida voters to fund the acquisition of land for parks and to protect wildlife habitat through Florida Forever,” said Aliki Moncrief, Director of Florida’s Water and Land Legacy. “So far, both the Senate and House have left Florida Forever basically unfunded. Voter expect them to finish the job.”

Florida Forever was signed into law by Governor Jeb Bush in 1999, reauthorized by the Florida Legislature in 2008, and until 2009 received $300 million annually. When funded, Florida Forever was highly successful in acquiring lands that protect the water quality of rivers, lakes, and springs, wildlife habitat, and provide healthy outdoor recreation opportunities for all Floridians.

Legislators will have to return to Tallahassee for a Special Session before the end of the state fiscal year to pass a state budget. That will be the Legislature’s final opportunity this year to respect the will of the voters when they approved Amendment 1.