PolitiFact Florida: Rick Scott's boast of 'record' environmental funding isn't true

Published June 15, 2015

Gov. Rick Scott says that Florida has invested big bucks in the environment.

As he boasted about the state's record during his economic summit for GOP presidential contenders on June 2 in Orlando, Scott reeled off a bunch of statistics about Florida's budget and economy, including this one: "If you care about the environment, we've got record funding."

Scott's record on the environment has been scrutinized since he first ran for office in 2010. Since that time, news reports detailed how state officials under his watch have been banned from using terms such as "climate change," environmental fines have nose-dived, and Scott has boasted about reducing the number of days to get an environmental permit.

But despite that record, does Florida now have "record funding" for the environment? No, it doesn't.

Scott's team pointed us to proposals to raise funding for springs restoration and for preserving the Everglades when we asked about evidence for the claim.

During his re-election campaign in 2014, Scott promised to propose a $500 million plan over 10 years to restore springs. The 2013 budget included $10 million for springs, and the 2014 budget included $30 million. In his budget proposal for 2015-16, Scott recommended $50 million.

As for the Everglades, the state reached an agreement in 2012 with the federal government to end a dispute that predates Scott. Over 13 years, the state will spend $880 million on Everglades cleanup.

In 2014, the Legislature increased Everglades restoration funding to $169 million, more than double the previous year's total. The Legislature also earmarked $90 million for raising 2.6 miles of the Tamiami Trail to let the Everglades flow more freely beneath it. That brought the total amount during that session to $259 million.

"The one place where he did step up was on the Everglades," said Frank Jackalone, Sierra Club's Senior Organizing Manager in Florida. "It was the environmental highlight of his term as governor."

Although Everglades and springs restoration are important parts of environmental funding, they don't provide a complete picture.

If we look back a decade at funding for the Department of Environmental Protection, the high point was $2.9 billion in 2006-07 under then-Gov. Jeb Bush. The DEP is tasked with protecting air, water and land. Under Scott, the DEP's budget peaked at $1.8 billion in 2011-12.

The DEP's budget was also in the $2 billion range part of the time under the next governor, Charlie Crist. But once the recession kicked in, the DEP's budget decreased.

This year, the total budget is $1.56 billion, and for next year Scott proposed a budget of about $1.53 billion.

There have been several other cuts related to the environment under Scott:

• In 2011, Scott and the Legislature abolished the Department of Community Affairs, which for decades reviewed development plans in cities and counties;

• The same year, Scott and lawmakers forced state water management districts to slash property tax collections. Water management districts handle planning for water resources and wetlands protection, among other environmental issues;

• Revenue collected from environmental penalties plummeted from $9.3 million in Scott's first year to $1.4 million in 2013;

• Funding for Florida Forever, the state's land acquisition program, was about $100 million when he took office. It has stayed below $28 million since. That led to environmentalists advocating for Amendment 1, which was approved by 75 percent of voters in November. Amendment sponsors had hoped that the land-buying program would get $300 million to return it to prerecession levels, but Scott's budget proposal this year included $100 million for Florida Forever, while legislators proposed less.

"Record funding" for the environment has become a talking point for Scott. After we rated a similar claim False in 2014, he tweaked his message to talk specifically about "record funding" for springs. But on the national stage, surrounded by presidential contenders last month, he went back to talking about record funding generically for the environment.

Restoration of the Everglades and springs are high-profile projects, but Scott claimed that Florida has "record funding" for the environment overall, and that's not the case. The budgets for the state Department of Environmental Protection and for Florida Forever were not at record levels under Scott — two major pots of money that relate to the environment.

Scott repeated a previously debunked claim in a national forum; his statement has long been proved incorrect.

We rate this claim Pants on Fire!

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