Published in Jacksonville Times-Union on June 25, 2015: Legislators managed to take the word “trust” out of trust fund. Now they are snubbing their noses at the landslide number of Florida voters who supported protecting the state’s conservation lands.
Amendment 1 earned 75 percent of the vote last fall with the Times-Union’s editorial support. The voters’ support should come as no surprise. Floridians, natives and newcomers alike, love this environment and want to protect it as the state’s population continues to grow.
The constitutional amendment was designed to preserve one-third of documentary stamp revenue to protect endangered water and lands.
Cynics predicted that the Legislature would play games with that money just as previous generations of lawmakers skimmed lottery money into the general fund. But even the worst cynic couldn’t imagine it would be this bad.
To put this in perspective, $17.4 million budgeted for the Florida Forever land purchase program is a fraction of what should have been appropriated.
As a Tampa Bay Times editorial put it, Florida used to spend $300 million a year on Florida Forever.
It was $100 million in the first year of Gov. Scott’s term in office. Now it receives $17 million despite the constitutional amendment.
Where is it all going?
Too much is going to pay for salaries and administration for current programs.
Where have we seen this before?
The Florida Lottery scam played on citizens by previous Legislatures.
In a lawsuit filed by environmental groups, less than 12 percent of the $740 million available went to all kinds of land acquisition — $88.7 million.
The plaintiffs contend that almost half of the money appropriated as a result of Amendment 1 falls outside permissible uses. Legislative leaders disagree.
But the will of the voters is clear.