Advertisement
  1. Florida Politics

Voters suggest Amendment 1 funds were supposed to be spent acquiring land

Cattails supplant sawgrass on 100,000 acres of the Everglades, fed by the flow of phosphorous from the sugar industry, vegetable farms and suburban sprawl — and blocking the historic flow of water and wading birds.
Published Mar. 26, 2015

John Hendershot was one of 4.2 million Floridians who voted for Amendment 1, helping it pass by an overwhelming 75 percent majority in November.

For him, there was no mistaking what the ballot measure meant.

"I was convinced that the purpose was to set aside money primarily for environmental lands acquisition purchases and to preserve and protect environmental lands," said Hendershot, a 61-year-old Tampa psychologist. "It was intended to add to, and not to replace, existing funds that were already intended for environmental purposes."

Expectations among Hendershot and many other Amendment 1 supporters were running high as lawmakers began negotiating next year's budget. Advocates estimated Amendment 1 would produce $10 billion over 20 years. Next year alone, the measure is projected to add $741 million in revenue.

But when state lawmakers released the proposed Senate and House budgets last week, the intent of Amendment 1 was suddenly murkier than the Everglades after a tropical storm.

The Senate's budget set aside $2 million for the Florida Forever program, which was created in 1999 to fund public land acquisition and was initially authorized to spend $300 million a year. The proposed amount represents an 84 percent cut from this year's budget and $118 million less than what Gov. Rick Scott proposes.

The House says it has set aside $205 million for Florida Forever, but most of that money is actually tied to other projects, such as reservoirs, springs restoration and other programs, leaving only about $10 million for the land acquisition program.

Both budgets have exasperated sponsors of Amendment 1, who had hoped to return to prerecession Florida's $300 million spending levels for land acquisition.

"The Legislature greatly exceeded my expectations for mischief," said Clay Henderson, an Orlando lawyer and former president of the Florida Audubon Society, who helped write the amendment. "There's no question about what the emphasis was. It was Florida Forever. We were clear about that."

What did voters in favor of Amendment 1 think would happen after their victory?

"My wife and I were expecting the funds … would be used to purchase land and keep that land free of developers," said Hal Cohen of High Springs.

"All Amendment 1 funds must be used to buy the last remaining parks, wildlife habitat, and natural areas that make our state such a great place to live," said Kris Pagenkopf of Gainesville.

Some voters say amendment money would be better used for capital improvement projects that help maintain water and land. Taking that more flexible view are local governments looking for help with infrastructure costs and agricultural interests such as U.S. Sugar and Associated Industries of Florida.

"Amendment 1 proceeds should be used to protect the state's water supply, in terms of both water quality and water quantity," said Pete Snyder, a 61-year-old Lakeland resident who is the executive director of the Florida Turfgrass Association. "Too many of Florida's water bodies are impaired due to nutrient loading and other pollutants."

Lawmakers insist that they are fulfilling the wishes of voters by expanding the scope of the amendment to support capital projects like new reservoirs that also please agribusinesses. Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said he reads the intent of the amendment more broadly so that it includes a full range of suitable purposes, such as local government water infrastructure projects and maintenance of existing state lands.

Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, who chaired the Senate committee allocating Amendment 1 money, said his first priority is to follow the intent of voters. But he said the state already has more than enough land, 9.5 million acres, and already has trouble maintaining it.

"We don't want to be known as the 'hoarding land state,' " Hays said. "We need to be known as good stewards of the land we own."

Henderson said he wrote the ballot measure as tightly as possible, but needed to include language that met legal requirements.

"You can always second-guess it," he said. "We've been scrutinizing it ourselves. Someone suggested to me that we shouldn't have had a semicolon in one place. That's how arcane this has become."

But he said it's clear that lawmakers have gone astray reinterpreting the intent of voters. The Senate budget uses Amendment 1 money to pay the salaries of state workers for the parks and forest services, Florida Fish and Wildlife enforcement officers and employees at the Division of Historical Resources and Cultural Affairs, which frees up money for lawmakers in the state's general fund.

"It's the Lottery two-step," Henderson said. "They're using Amendment 1 to pay for existing services."

Voters approved the Florida Lottery in 1987 with language specifying that proceeds would be used for education. But lawmakers diverted money that had been paying for education to other purposes and the lottery made up the difference. Henderson said that is what's happening with Amendment 1 revenue.

Unlike the Lottery, Amendment 1 isn't new revenue. It's existing revenue from documentary stamps. Voters simply designated that 33 percent of it pay for acquiring, restoring, improving and managing conservation lands.

Sen. Thad Altman, R-Rockledge, and Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, filed amendments to the Senate's $80.4 billion budget that would steer more money to Florida Forever. But both withdrew the amendments on Wednesday after getting assurances from Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, that negotiations to increase Florida Forever funding are just beginning.

Though he didn't elaborate, Lee said lawmakers will end up putting more money back into Florida Forever.

"I would be surprised if the amount of money spent on land acquisition under Amendment 1 doesn't go up substantially," Lee said. "I say that not based on any insight into where the House position might be or where (Senate President Andy Gardiner) might be, but just what I'm hearing generally."

Henderson said he was encouraged that lawmakers were "stepping back."

"This was the first day that these questions about Amendment 1 were asked, so we'll wait and see," he said, when asked if his group is considering legal action. "We're hoping cooler heads will prevail, so we'll watch this carefully."

Ultimately, anyone can sue if they believe lawmakers haven't followed the constitutional amendment. It would be up to the Florida Supreme Court to decide what Amendment 1 means.

Voters like Hendershot, the Tampa psychologist, think they already know.

"The individuals we elected to govern the state appear to be marching in lockstep, in the opposite direction, contrary to the will of the majority of voters," Hendershot said. "Whether or not the majority of voters will pay attention to this unfortunate turn of events and vote accordingly in the future remains to be seen."

Contact Michael Van Sickler at mvansickler@tampabay.com. Follow @mikevansickler.


ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. FILE - In this Aug. 1, 2019, file photo, Donald Trump Jr. speaks before the arrival of President Donald Trump at a campaign rally at U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File) JOHN MINCHILLO  |  AP
    University of Florida student body president Michael Murphy received a resolution for his impeachment Tuesday. Then the state’s Republican Party started an online petition and fundraiser.
  2. Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, filed a bill, HB 1161, to implement online voter registration in 2018.
    This week, GOP senators rallied support around Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, to become Senate president for the 2023 and 2024 legislative session.
  3. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, right, testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington on Friday, in the second public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. SUSAN WALSH  |  AP
    Experts on foreign policy said it was ridiculous to think that one person could turn a country “bad.”
  4. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., left, talks with ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., during a hearing of the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, during the first public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP) SAUL LOEB  |  AP
    Almost 9 in 10 think the House impeaches Trump but the Senate won’t convict.
  5. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker speaking during 2016 graduation ceremonies at the Florida State University College of Law. [Florida State College of Law] Florida State College of Law
    The ruling, if it’s not overturned, means that President Donald Trump will not automatically be first on the 2020 ballot in Florida.
  6. The U.S. Attorney's Office in Pensacola.
    Prosecutors say Farm Service Agency director Duane E. Crawson, 43, of Bonifay, led a conspiracy to get his friends, family members and acquaintances to recruit others to submit false applications for...
  7. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the Panama City City Hall on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. His wife Casey DeSantis is pregnant with the family's third child. He joked that the family will have to transition from "man-to-man to zone defense." (Joshua Boucher/News Herald via AP) JOSHUA BOUCHER/ THE NEWS HERALD  |  AP
    The federal judge had ordered that 17 felons not be removed from the voter rolls before a lawsuit goes to trial next year.
  8. In this Nov. 12, 2019 file photo, Roger Stone, a longtime Republican provocateur and former confidant of President Donald Trump, waits in line at the federal court in Washington. MANUEL BALCE CENETA  |  AP
    Roger Stone, a longtime friend and ally of President Donald Trump, was found guilty Friday of witness tampering and lying to Congress about his pursuit of Russian-hacked emails damaging to Hillary...
  9. The Capitol is seen in Washington on. Impeachment hearings for President Donald Trump come at the very time that Capitol Hill usually tends to its mound of unfinished business. J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE  |  AP
  10. This March 7, 2016, file photo shows the Trump National Doral clubhouse in Doral. WILFREDO LEE  |  AP
    A party spokeswoman confirmed to the Miami Herald Thursday that the annual event, to be held over several days in late January, will take place at Trump National Doral Miami, located near Miami...
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement