from tcpalm.com: Environmentalists could soon go on the offense over what they describe as the Legislature’s failure to meet the intent of a constitutional amendment to boost land and water conservation.
The day after lawmakers came to an agreement over how to spend about $750 million available through Amendment 1, approved by 75 percent of voters last year, the group that drafted the measure is considering a public information campaign and even a lawsuit.
“We are evaluating all of our options,” said Will Abberger, chairman of Florida’s Water and Land Legacy, the amendment sponsor. “I think the most important option is making sure folks who believe in clean water understand that the Legislature has ignored the intent of Amendment 1.”
Abberger said it’s too early to say how strongly the group is considering a lawsuit before an item-by-item budget document is expected to be released Tuesday and voted on Friday.
Legislative leaders on Sunday said they already expected litigation.
“I’m not a lawyer but in this world we live in today I’m confident in one thing and one thing only and that is there will be litigation,” said Senate budget Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon.
Amendment 1 directed one-third of real estate transaction tax revenues to the purchase, management and restoration of conservation land, including lands that protect water resources such as the Indian River Lagoon and the Everglades.
The House and Senate directed more than $230 million in their proposed budget to pay for routine operating expenses of environmental agencies, such as salaries and benefits but final figures won’t be available until a final budget is released.
Only $17.4 million is going to the Florida Forever program, which buys land mainly for habitat conservation and parks. Florida’s Water and Land Legacy proposed $155 million and Gov. Rick Scott recommended $100 million, still shy from the $300 million the program once got.
Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper said when the Legislature passes a final budget he will analyze it to see if any of the Amendment 1 allocations are in violation of its intent.
Audubon tried to push for a proposal during budget negotiations over the weekend that would direct the South Florida Water Management District to estimate how much land is needed to move Lake Okeechobee water south to reduce releases into the St. Lucie River. Budget writers turned down the measure because of opposition from the sugar industry, which owns most of the land in that area, Draper said.
Audubon’s proposal was an alternative to a measure Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, tried to push to set aside up to $45 million to finance $500 million for south-of-the-lake acquisition. The measure died last week after budget writers agreed not to finance any projects.
In the meantime, the H2O Coalition, a wing of the business lobbying group Associated Industries of Florida, praised the Legislature’s use of Amendment 1, saying limited land acquisition “ensures there’s enough Amendment 1 dollars for everyone.”
“This budget puts the needs of Floridians ahead of the wishes of those seeking to buy up land at all costs,” said Brewster Bevis, AIF’s senior vice president of state and federal affairs, via a news release. “They are pushing an agenda that isn’t backed by science and one taxpayers simply cannot afford.”