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FLORIDA CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS // AMENDMENTS 4, 5 and 6

You'll notice that the 1996 ballot contains three different amendments that concern the Florida Everglades.

There's a reason for this.

Two years ago, petitions were circulated for a constitutional amendment that blamed sugar growers for polluting the Everglades and proposed to restore a vast expanse of damaged wetlands with a one-cent tax on every pound of sugar grown there.

The Florida Supreme Court concluded that multiple questions had been crowded into one amendment, causing it to be confusing, and thus kept it off the 1994 ballot.

This year, Save Our Everglades, a conservationist group, returned with three amendments and gained the court's approval to hold referendums on three questions.

Of the three, Amendment 4 is the most controversial. It levies a one-cent fee on each pound of cane sugar grown in the Everglades for 25 years. This tax is projected to yield as much as $900-million by its expiration date. The money would go to the South Florida Water Management District, and it could be used for any project to reduce water pollution or conserve natural resources in the Everglades.

Supporters of the sugar tax say it will provide a guaranteed source of revenue for a massive environmental restoration effort that is likely to last decades and cost several billion dollars.

Sugar growers predict the tax would drive them out of business, leaving thousands of people jobless, and the money would be left in the hands of unelected bureaucrats who have yet to develop an approved Everglades restoration plan.

Amendment 5 makes those who pollute water in agricultural areas of the Everglades "primarily responsible" for cleanup costs.

There has been little argument over the general merits of this principle but considerable disagreement about the consequences of its passage.

Save Our Everglades aimed this one at the sugar industry as well. Environmental groups say phosphorous-rich runoff from sugar cane fields is the primary pollutant in the Everglades, but sugar growers are paying a minority of the $700-million cleanup bill in the 1994 Everglades Forever Act. The growers say they are already paying their fair share _ up to $320-million _ to reduce phosphorous runoff from their farms, and the amendment would not require them to pay more.

Amendment 6 creates an Everglades Trust Fund that can receive money from any source: corporate gifts, individual donations, local, state or federal revenue.

The trust fund, like the proposed sugar tax, would be administered by the water management district. Unlike the sugar tax, this amendment has caused little debate. No group is campaigning against the idea of giving money to the Everglades.

_ DAVID OLINGER

AMENDMENT

SUMMARIES

No. 4 places a penny fee on every pound of sugar cane grown in Florida, with the money going to clean up the Everglades; No. 5 makes agricultural Everglades polluters primarily responsible for the Everglades clean up; No. 6 creates a trust fund to handle Everglades cleanup money.

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