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Senate approves land buying plan

Published Oct. 17, 2005

A $3-billion program to save Florida's open spaces from development won unanimous approval Wednesday from the Senate. The Preservation 2000 program, initiated by Gov. Bob Martinez, was touted by its sponsor, Sen. Tom McPherson, as the biggest effort ever mounted by a state to buy environmentally endangered lands.

"You can't buy land stretchers," said McPherson, D-Fort Lauderdale, "There is no way to get back land once it is paved, asphalted and concreted and buildings are built on it."

The measure calls for selling $300-million in bonds during the next budget year and expresses the state's intent to continue the bond sales during the following nine years to pay for state land purchases.

The Senate voted 36-0 for the bill. Similar legislation is awaiting action in the House.

The Senate and House haven't reached final agreement on the program, however. One reason is that legislators have different plans for some of the money.

The Senate version contains up to $45-million that could be spent for local projects such as parks, picnic tables, boat ramps and baseball fields, critics have said. The House version provides money to buy forestry lands and wildlife refuges that could be used for hunting.

And neither bill guarantees that money will be available for Preservation 2000 in future years. Legislators have said they are concerned about committing the state to such a large expense for 10 years.

Martinez, facing re-election this year, has his own concern about the Preservation 2000 package: making sure that it doesn't contain a tax increase. Pete Dunbar, Martinez's chief counsel, re-emphasized Wednesday that the governor does not believe the plan will increase taxes.

Several key legislators, including House Majority Leader Keith Arnold, D-Fort Myers, have said that legislators are raising documentary stamp taxes to finance Preservation 2000.

McPherson also acknowledged that the bill depends indirectly upon dollars that would be raised through a proposed increase in the documentary stamp tax, collected on private real estate transactions.

"That would occur, but it does not occur in this bill," McPherson said.

No mention of a tax increase appears in the Preservation 2000 bills.

"It's a bill for the future," McPherson said. "It's a bill for your sons and your daughters and your grandchildren and all those future people that will move to Florida who will find lands where they can find recreational value."

_ Staff writer John D. McKinnon contributed to this report.