Until House Republican budget writers were handed sharp pens last month, land preservation and Everglades cleanup enjoyed enduring bipartisan support in Florida. Now, as far as the House budget is concerned, preservation is yesterday's news.
House leaders are casting their decision to delete the entire $500-million allocation for Florida Forever land-buying and Everglades cleanup as an agonizing choice in a difficult budget year. But state revenue has dropped by 7 percent, not 100 percent, which suggests that belt-tightening is not the only motivation.
House Speaker Marco Rubio has publicly questioned the state's role in environmental regulation, even hinting recently that the Department of Environmental Protection could be abolished. His chamber's proposed budget, aside from the cuts to land-buying and Everglades cleanup, would also remove $175-million from trust funds designed to support environmental causes.
The Everglades portion already has caught the attention of Congress, which agreed in 2000 to share cleanup costs. "Florida's congressional delegation has been outspoken in support of ... increased federal funding," a bipartisan congressional group wrote to Rubio. "We believe that if the state ... now chooses to stop funding its share of this historic agreement, it will undermine the ability to secure federal funding now and in the future."
The Senate is unlikely to agree to the House's radical approach on the Everglades and land conservation. But the House Republican proposal should not be easily forgotten. It speaks to an ideological opportunism and an environmental hostility that voters might want to remember in the fall.