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Environmental land-buying amendment gets signatures to make ballot

Backers of a constitutional amendment to set aside billions of dollars in tax money for purchasing environmentally sensitive land and protecting wildlife and water resources said Thursday that they have passed the threshold to get the measure on the November 2014 ballot.

They obtained 686,000 verified petition signatures from 15 of Florida's congressional districts, according to Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation, part of a coalition of environmental groups backing the measure. They needed at least 683,000 signatures from 14 districts, he said.

If it passes, "this will be the largest state-based conservation initiative in United States history," Fuller said. So far, he said, "we have seen no organized opposition."

The Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment requires no new taxes. Instead, it calls for one-third of the documentary tax paid on real estate transactions to be set aside for conservation spending programs such as land purchases and protecting drinking water sources.

The amendment's backers, which include such groups as Audubon Florida, the Sierra Club and 1000 Friends of Florida, estimate the measure could raise as much as $10 billion over 20 years.

If approved, it would go into effect on July 1, 2015, and would expire in 2035.

The amendment also would block the Legislature from taking money from that fund and spending it on anything else.

Florida once led the nation in environmental land purchases with programs named Preservation 2000 and Florida Forever, both of which were financed using documentary stamp taxes. However, in recent years the Legislature sharply cut the money for land buying.

Last year, at the suggestion of Gov. Rick Scott's Department of Environmental Protection, lawmakers even called for selling off up to $20 million of land already purchased in order to raise money for buying more land. However, the list of properties that the DEP proposed for possible sale have drawn great criticism, and state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, recently called the effort "a disaster."

Craig Pittman can be reached at craig@tampabay.com or follow him on Twitter at @craigtimes.

Environmental land-buying amendment gets signatures to make ballot 01/16/14 [Last modified: Saturday, January 18, 2014 8:59pm]
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