Groups angered over Fla’s proposed use of conservation money

Author: Associated Press
Published: Updated:

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Environmentalists unhappy with the Legislature’s proposed use of conservation funding for things like agency salaries and operating budgets expressed anger outside the Capitol on Tuesday.

But their complaints fell on deaf ears, as Florida’s House adjourned early, leaving the fate of some environmental funding in jeopardy.

Brandishing a bottle of “green, slimy toxic algae water,” Eric Draper of the Florida Audubon Society said the Legislature is ignoring the will of the voters by refusing to allocate money for land that could be used to clean up state waterways.

Three quarters of Florida voters last year voted for Amendment 1, which changed the state constitution to earmark hundreds of millions of dollars for conservation programs like Florida Forever. That program sets aside money from a real estate tax for land purchases meant to improve the environment.

But GOP lawmakers say the amendment’s wording allows for them to use the funds for “environmental purposes” rather than specifically for Florida Forever and other programs. They have proposed spending only 8-to-$15-million of the roughly $750 million in conservation funds this year on Florida Forever, angering the amendment’s authors.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said he believed the amendment’s money can help pay for better land management of tracts already in state possession. “We focus more this year on land management, and I think that’s the desire of the House at this point.”

Under gray skies, Draper and a handful of volunteers from the Florida chapter of the Audubon Society and the Everglades Trust, an advocacy group, met with reporters in front of the porpoise fountain outside the state Capitol to show off bottles of the polluted water and talk about the land purchase and the petition. They planned to deliver the bottles and 20,000 signatures on a petition to Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers.

Earlier in the session, hundreds of environmentalists showed up with protest signs on the old capitol building steps calling for the money to be spent on land buys.

Advocates for land purchases say the voter support for the amendment was a clear message that the money raised through it should be spent on protecting the state’s water and environment by new land buys, not funding agencies that can get money elsewhere.

“With land acquisition in Florida, if we don’t buy it now we know it’s going to cost more later and in fact it may be developed,” said Will Abberger of the Trust for Public Land, one of the architects of the amendment.

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