Last year Floridians found out that calling something "Forever" doesn't guarantee its funding will never run out. That's when the Legislature stopped paying for the popular Florida Forever program.
The decision broke with a 20-year tradition of supporting the state's nationally known land-buying program, which originated as "Preservation 2000." Over two decades the program has saved more than 2.5 million acres of forests and swamps from being bulldozed.
Because of the Legislature's decision, state officials this past year were more cautious about buying property, trying to conserve the dwindling funds they still had on hand. If the program gets no money this year, either, though, that could end Florida Forever forever.
Gov. Charlie Crist has proposed reviving Florida Forever, putting $50 million in the budget he sent the Legislature. That's "really the bare minimum to put the program on life support," said Janet Bowman of the Nature Conservancy, which often collaborates with state officials on purchases.
Environmental groups have lined up four ex-governors — Reubin Askew, Bob Graham, Bob Martinez and Jeb Bush — to help them campaign to restore the funding. But some lawmakers remain skeptical of Florida Forever's value and question the wisdom of taking property off the tax rolls.
The irony is that, thanks to the slumping real estate industry, "there are a lot of fabulous opportunities out there now" that can be acquired at low prices, Bowman said. "Now's the time to buy."
Craig Pittman, Times Staff Writer