Wednesday, October 17, 2018
News Roundup

Florida Forever? More like Florida Never after Legislature spends zero dollars on land-buying program

Once again, the Florida Legislature has turned the politically popular Florida Forever program into Florida Never.

The budget that legislative leaders have approved — but which Gov. Rick Scott has yet to sign — calls for spending zero dollars on the Florida Forever program to buy up environmentally sensitive land.

That's not what the voters had in mind when they approved Amendment 1 in 2014 by an overwhelming margin, environmental advocates say.

"I am terribly disappointed that the will of the voters has been ignored by our elected legislative body," said Nat Reed, founder of 1,000 Friends of Florida. "Every year that there is no funding for Florida Forever is a lost year for Floridians."

The budget also includes no money for a grants program for local parks. Instead, its only land-buying component sets aside $10 million to pay ranchers not to develop their property.

The chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, calls himself "the father of Florida Forever" because he backed the bill that created the program. But he told reporters Wednesday that he was "obviously disappointed" that he couldn't come up with any money for it.

Latvala blamed Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, saying that the House insisted on holding back millions more in reserve than the Senate. Still, Latvala contended that environmental spending as a whole made out pretty well, with funding for an Everglades reservoir, the beaches and the springs.

"If buying raw land suffers for a year, so be it," Latvala said. "Next year I'll try to fix that."

But "wait till next year" has become a familiar refrain for Florida Forever.

Legislators have repeatedly stripped money out of the program and spent it on other purposes. That's the reason why environmental advocates came up with Amendment 1, explained Will Abberger of the Trust for Public Land, who headed the group that pushed for the amendment's passage in 2014.

"The main impetus was the fact that the money for Florida Forever was zeroed out in 2009," he said. So his group designed a constitutional amendment that would tell legislators "this needs to be a priority for our state."

A TV ad that ran before the 2014 election spelled out its goal, showing clouds marching across the sky over the Everglades, a rainbow and a girl swimming in a spring.

"What's more important than protecting Florida's natural areas?" the ad's narrator said. "For water. For wildlife. For people." Vote for Amendment 1, the ad said, if you want to "protect and restore" Florida's "drinking water, lakes, beaches, lakes, rivers and springs."

And people did. Amendment 1 passed in 2014 with 75 percent of the vote, a far higher margin of victory than for Gov. Rick Scott or any other politician running statewide.

However, Amendment 1 could only go so far. The decision on how to spend the money remained in the hands of the Florida Legislature. Instead of using it to buy land, lawmakers steered the money into salaries for the staff of the state parks and state forest system.

As a result, groups such as the Florida Defenders of the Environment, the Florida Wildlife Federation and the Sierra Club sued the state to overturn those spending decisions. If the Legislature fails to spend any money on Florida Forever again, that could lead to yet another lawsuit.

"We'll look at it very carefully to see if it could be the basis for a new challenge," said Joseph Little, the University of Florida law professor representing the Florida Defenders of the Environment in court.

One House member said the Legislature's reluctance to hand over millions to a land-buying program is a signal that times have changed.

"The situation today is different than it was in 1990" when Florida's original land-buying program, Preservation 2000, started, said state Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, who chairs the Government Accountability Committee. "We've acquired millions of acres since then."

Some legislators are wary of allowing even more land to be taken off the tax rolls in the name of environmental preservation, he said. Still others, he said, were unhappy with the large amount of debt that the state has incurred to run its land-buying program. Caldwell pushed a bill that passed the House to guarantee some money would go to Florida Forever starting next year. But it has not been passed by the Senate.

Abberger pointed out that, just as when the Florida Forever program started, Florida underwent a building boom. With no money for Florida Forever, that renewed development will probably swallow up some of the 2 million acres now included as priority acquisitions on the list prepared by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

"Once that's developed, it's gone," Abberger said. "We're spending billions of dollars to undo past mistakes in the Everglades and Lake Okeechobee. Why can't we get money set aside to make sure we don't make similar mistakes elsewhere?"

Contact Craig Pittman at [email protected] Follow @craigtimes.

Comments
Michael’s most vulnerable evacuees make Pasco shelter their new home

Michael’s most vulnerable evacuees make Pasco shelter their new home

HUDSON — Linda Wood lay on a metal cot, closed her eyes and tried to get some sleep Monday night. Pictures of her Panama City apartment some 300 miles away kept flashing through her mind. The nearly blind 71-year-old envisioned her chocolate-c...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Dr. BBQ opens to the public today. Hereís a look.

Dr. BBQ opens to the public today. Hereís a look.

ST. PETERSBURGDr. BBQ needed a beer. Mission accomplished: A sip of Green Benchís Dr. BBQ Pale Lager dispatched, he was ready to start the tour. See that teal tufted couch against that wall? Itís like something from Girl & the Goat in Chicago. The wo...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Report: Tampa drivers pay different insurance rates based on ZIP code

Report: Tampa drivers pay different insurance rates based on ZIP code

It can be tough to figure out why insurance companies charge some more than others for auto coverage. But a recent analysis by the Consumer Federation of America suggests that a driverís neighborhood could be a factor. The analysis, released Monday, ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
The Daystarter: Pasco welcomes Hurricane Michael evacuees; how long will the Panhandle be without power?; long-awaited debut of Dr. BBQ is today

The Daystarter: Pasco welcomes Hurricane Michael evacuees; how long will the Panhandle be without power?; long-awaited debut of Dr. BBQ is today

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what to know today.ē Highs in the low 90s, though a tad cooler along the coast. No chance of rain, so expect a dry afternoon as well, according to the National Weather Service. The temperatures will start...
Updated: 2 hours ago
What I learned about food by eating a 27-course meal at Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns

What I learned about food by eating a 27-course meal at Dan Barber’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns

A recent trip to upstate New York provided the perfect excuse to try the renowned chef’s restaurant, and a once-in-a-lifetime meal.
Updated: 10 hours ago
Liberals are dreaming when it comes to holding on to Floridaís Supreme Court

Liberals are dreaming when it comes to holding on to Floridaís Supreme Court

This was a smackdown, no doubt about it.The state Supreme Court just rendered the judicial equivalent of a loud guffaw regarding Gov. Rick Scottís claim he is entitled to replace three retiring Supreme Court justices before he leaves office.And yet, ...
Published: 10/17/18
Mumís the word but Murmanís a player in departure of Glazer Childrenís Museum leader

Mumís the word but Murmanís a player in departure of Glazer Childrenís Museum leader

TAMPA ó Jennifer Stancil was looking forward to Halloween and the role she would play in a new downtown event celebrating the spooky holiday."WE ARE SO EXCITED to be a partner with the Riverwalk for Halloween," Stancil, president and chief executive ...
Published: 10/17/18
Emergency rooms and jails the focus as Hillsborough task force takes on opioid epidemic

Emergency rooms and jails the focus as Hillsborough task force takes on opioid epidemic

TAMPA ó The opioid addiction epidemic is expected to claim the lives of almost 300 people in Hillsborough County this year.Those who donít overdose face an increased risk of addiction to drugs like heroin and fentanyl.Now, the countyís Opioid Task Fo...
Published: 10/17/18
Democrat Jennifer Webb and Republican Raymond Blacklidge pick up the pace as they battle for State House District 69 seat

Democrat Jennifer Webb and Republican Raymond Blacklidge pick up the pace as they battle for State House District 69 seat

Democrat Jennifer Webb and Republican Raymond Blacklidge are pulling in campaign donations from a wide swath of supporters as they try to capture the State House District 69 seat
Published: 10/17/18
'The killing has to stop,' Midtown residents say after bodies found in alley

'The killing has to stop,' Midtown residents say after bodies found in alley

Midtown residents say it's hard to find someone in the neighborhood who hasn't been affected by violence.
Updated: 2 hours ago