Environmentalists: Divert Surplus Funds To Amendment 1

Environmental groups are asking a Leon County judge to intervene in how the state will spend a large chunk of the $700 million in funds set aside by voters for conservation.

If granted, the injunction, filed Friday by environmental law group Earthjustice on behalf of four nonprofits, would force the state to put more than $200 million from the state budget surplus into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. The state budget, passed by the Legislature in June, uses some of the money in the trust fund to fund existing projects like administration of the Department of Environmental Protection or firefighting by the Department of Agriculture.

Critics say this flies in the face of what three-quarters of voters demanded when they supported Amendment 1 on the ballot in November.

“We’re not saying that those things aren’t appropriate for funding,” said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation. “We don’t think they’re appropriate for Amendment 1 funding.”

Environmentalists, including Fuller, want to see the $700 million from the trust fund in this year’s budget spent on land acquisition in the interest of conservation.

“We think theat the public spoke when they voted for the amendment. We think in these areas, the Legislature misapplied the funds,” he said.

But legislators argued in June that their spending falls in line with vague guidelines written into the constitutional amendment.

They did set aside some funds for land buys in the budget, but it falls far short of what environmental activists have asked for.

Four of the same groups behind Friday’s injunction request — Earthjustice, Florida Wildlife Federation, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida — filed a lawsuit in June, asking a judge to determine how future trust fund money set aside by Amendment 1 can be spent. The Sierra Club joined the lawsuit Friday. (An earlier version of this post incorrectly said Sierra Club was part of the original lawsuit in June.)

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