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Bousquet column: Gov. Rick Scott straddles fence on land, water protections

It was a simple question, but as is often the case with Gov. Rick Scott, there was no simple answer.

Three times in recent days, Scott has been asked about Amendment 1 on the November ballot. Three times, Scott danced around it in an abdication of leadership.

Amendment 1 would set aside one-third of an existing tax source for 20 years to protect land and water. The money, about $600 million next year and up to $10 billion over 20 years, would come from doc stamp taxes on property sales. State economists say it won't raise taxes.

Supporters include the Audubon Society, Sierra Club, Trust for Public Lands and 1000 Friends of Florida (their website is voteyeson1fl.org).

Opponents include Senate President Don Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and the Florida Chamber of Commerce, who say it's bad policy to remove budgeting authority from lawmakers and to lock programs into the state Constitution.

If you think Florida should do more to protect land and water, you'll vote yes on Amendment 1. (Passage requires a 60 percent majority.)

Scott is up for re-election, and long ago he came out against Amendment 2 to legalize medical marijuana, saying he'll vote no out of concern that drug use can hurt families. Whether or not you agree with Scott, at least he's taking a stand — as a governor should.

But when it comes to setting aside money for land and water, Scott is his bobbing and weaving self.

"Everything on the ballot is going to go to all the voters in the state, just like me," Scott said in Tampa. "We'll see how they vote."

At another Tampa event, we tried again to pin Scott down. His finger-in-the-wind reply: "Our citizens have the right to look at what they want to do with it and so I look forward to seeing what they want to do."

In Tallahassee the next day, Scott said: "The public has an opportunity to vote, just like I do, so we'll see how it comes out." He wouldn't give his personal opinion.

Scott's leading Democratic challenger, Charlie Crist, initially hedged on Amendment 1, but asked a second time, he called the amendment "great" and said of environmentalists: "These are people who love Florida. I'm with them."

Scott is proud of his environmental record, but some independent, environment-friendly voters may be skeptical. Given a chance to reassure them, Scott punted three times.

The governor obviously doesn't want to alienate supporters of Amendment 1. Nor does he want to get sideways with the business community.

Amendment 1's chairman, Allison DeFoor, is a lawyer, former judge and sheriff, and a Republican. In an op-ed in the Miami Herald, he noted that money for Florida Forever land preservation has steadily eroded in recent years.

"Unless we take steps toward conservation ourselves, we cannot count on others — including lawmakers — to do it for us," DeFoor wrote. "We act now, or we act never."

"Hey, I'll take neutral," DeFoor said of Scott's stand. "But we're hoping to get his support."

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Bousquet column: Gov. Rick Scott straddles fence on land, water protections 06/23/14 [Last modified: Monday, June 23, 2014 7:28pm]

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