Stealing amendment 1 money should be a crime.
We need an amendment that says if lawmakers do not support our citizen amendments they get charged with a crime. After all it is stealing.
Instead, as Craig Pittman and Michael Auslen of the Tampa Bay Times reported, that great pile of Amendment 1 money is going to pay for items that normally would have been funded out of the regular budget. For stuff like park maintenance.
But the legislators, in cynical disregard of their constituents’ intent, earmarked $13.65 million of the Amendment 1 money to bail out a water storage project that auditors from the South Florida Water Management District had found was wildly out of whack in terms of cost effectiveness.
That’s just $3.75 million less than what Florida Forever will be getting for new land purchases.
The $13.65 million will bail out agricultural outfits like Alico, with major Florida holdings in citrus, ranching, farming and the very lucrative operations known as “water farming.” Alico is the largest of landowners around Lake Okeechobee paid to store water behind earth berms, meant to keep it from exacerbating the problems of the polluted estuaries of the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. As the Tampa Bay Times reported, a 57-page auditor’s report last year found these water farming contracts cost the public 10 times more if these than storage projects had been built on public land. Water farming is a massive boondoggle.
Which might have been beside the point, given that the South Florida Water Management District had run out of money to fund water farming anyway. But all that Florida Forever money presented the likes of Alico another fat funding source.
The money will be used for water and land conservation, management, and restoration in Florida. The funds dedicated by Amendment 1 will:
- Restore, manage, and acquire lands necessary to protect Florida’s drinking water sources and protect the water quality in our rivers, lakes and streams;
- Protect our beaches and shores;
- Protect and restore the Everglades and other degraded natural systems and waterways;
- Manage fish and wildlife habitat, protect forests and wetlands, and restore conservation lands that are an important part of Florida’s economy and quality of life;
- Provide funding to manage existing state and local natural areas, parks, and trails for water supply, habitat and recreation.
All this will be achieved with no increase in taxes.
Why did we need to amend the state constitution?
Since 2009, the Legislature has dramatically reduced funding for water and land protection, cutting key programs by more than 95%. Amendment 1 would ensure that water and land conservation projects are adequately funded – the funds cannot be diverted to other purposes – without increasing taxes. The only way to secure significant, sustainable resources for water and land conservation, management and restoration for the long-term is to take this issue directly to Florida voters through a constitutional amendment.
The legislature taketh and then they taketh some more.
How do I know the funds will be spent wisely?
Florida’s conservation programs have a great track record of spending these funds wisely. Amendment 1 ensures that funds are used solely for conservation purposes and cannot be used for any other purpose by the Legislature. Using the state’s existing successful programs as a model, objective criteria will continue to determine how funds are spent in order to keep politics out of the process.
Florida Forever and its predecessor Preservation 2000, for example, have been the most successful state land conservation programs in the nation, protecting more than 2.4 million acres of critical water resources, natural areas, wildlife habitat, parks, greenways and trails. Restoration of the Florida Everglades is the most comprehensive ecological restoration project in history. Florida’s land managing agencies and water management districts have done a tremendous job restoring degraded natural systems, including the state’s longleaf pine forests, the upper St. Johns River watershed and Rookery Bay. Amendment 1 ensures funding so that this critical restoration work will continue.
Now that Amendment 1 has passed, who will be in charge of the money?
While citizens can dedicate funding for water and land conservation in the state constitution, we cannot appropriate funds via the constitution. Appropriations are solely the Legislature’s responsibility. Fortunately, Florida has a number of excellent programs already in place for making project selection decisions. The state has a stellar track record of selecting conservation projects based on objective criteria and science, which includes review by citizens and oversight panels composed of experts from the appropriate fields. The existing Acquisition and Restoration Council is one good example. Amendment 1 does not change these existing project selection systems. So while the Legislature must appropriate the funds, the existing tried and true systems in place for project selection would not change now that Amendment 1 has been ratified.
Oh! Remember this?
One source for money to revive the water-farming contracts was money from the taxpayers from the rest of the state, via the Legislature. But the water district’s governing board, under state law, is not allowed to hire its own lobbyists to pursue funding.
Instead, Alico did it for them.
The company employed 16 lobbyists last year, and it turned them loose on the Legislature to get $13 million to pump new life into the project. Alico spokeswoman Sarah Bascom said the company was just helping out a state agency in need, and its lobbyists did not specifically ask for money for Alico’s own contract.”