|The President’s Hoot|
by Richard H. Baker, Ph.D.
Were you one of the voters who carefully considered the issues, thinking we had a democracy, and voted for the Amendment 1? You thought it would help save our natural Florida from so quickly disappearing. You wanted to keep many unique and lovely Florida birds and plant species from extinction. Thus, last November, you were one of 4.1 million Florida voters (75%) who resoundingly approved Amendment 1, which requires that, for the next 20 years, 33% of more than $750 million annual real-estate documentary stamp taxes be used to buy conservation and improve recreation lands. Yet in June 2015, the Legislature and Governor Scott chose to use most of these monies for other purposes, blatantly ignoring the will and directive of the majority of voters.
Local resident and columnist Carl Hiaasen called it what it is: a “Brazen theft of our Amendment 1 bucks” (http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/carl-hiaasen/article36702060.html). Orlando Sentinel’s Scott Maxwell in early June, 2015 stated, “Remember the Lottery?” where funds were supposed to add additional monies for our children’s education? “Florida Politicians may try the same shell game with the environment,” and they did! “They spent the lottery money on schools. But they took money they had previously spent on schools and started spending it on other things… like renovating the Legislature’s dining room.” Florida still ranks as having the 48th of 50 poorest-funded school systems in America.
They are doing this again with Amendment 1. The good news is that Amendment 1 is now in our Florida Constitution. The bad news is that the Legislature uses most of the money to pay for salaries and other routine expenses of environmental agencies previously funded by the state’s general revenue fund. This is Robbing Peter to Pay Paul; $237 million went to DEP (Dept. of Environmental Protection) for salaries and benefits for their technology and information office and boating and hunting law enforcement officers. You know… to protect our Black Bears!…as the hunting season begins. The Florida Forest Service got new enforcement vehicles and the FL. Dept. of Agriculture and Consumer Services got some funds too. Actually, the state spent $48 million less on conservation and the environment after Amendment 1 passed than before!
Our Legislature completely ignored Florida voters who thought they were voting for monies for the Indian River Lagoon, Everglades, and other places facing increasing population and pollution. This year, only about 7% of Amendment 1 money ($59 million) went for new land purchases. Of that, only $15.2 million was allocated to Florida Forever. Before Governor Scott and his legislators, and during Governors Martinez, Chiles, MacKay, Bush, and Crist, Preservation 2000 and Florida Forever monies from 1990 to 2009 allocated $300 million annually to purchase conservation lands. During that period, Indian River County citizens passed two local bond issues, $26 million in 1992 and $50 million in 2004, and with matching funds from these Florida Forever and Preservation 2000 programs, purchased 35 parcels of nearly 10,000 acres. Some of these lands help protect our Lagoon by preventing development along the Lagoon. Under Governor Scott, who came into office in 2011, and current Legislature Leaders, funding was cut for parks and conservation lands, staff were fired, and then Scott justified his Amendment 1 action by essentially saying, “We can’t buy any more lands, because we can’t care for what we have!” They also have tried to sell off some of our conservation lands and proposing golf courses to be placed on others!
The legislature will probably try to rob us again in the next session starting in January. Earthjustice, FL Wildlife Federation, St. Johns Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, and other organizations in a suit over Amendment 1 have asked that $237 million be transferred into the Land Acquisition Trust fund and reserved for uses permissible under the state constitution. We must act. All of us with one voice. Write your legislative leaders and the Governor demanding that they change course and follow the will of the people. (Find your Florida Senate legislator and your Florida House legislator. Contact Governor Rick Scott) Let’s join together for action here and across the state and in Tallahassee to pack the Supreme Court, House and Senate chambers and plan rallies as we did to get Amendment 1 passed last year. Our voices must be heard!
P.S. PIAS has been awarded two grants. $500 from the Audubon Florida to bring the story of the Scrub Jay to Pelican Island Elementary students and $5,000 from National Audubon, is to bring the story of the impact of climate change on birds to Indian River County. The project includes a Roseate Spoonbill Watch similar to the Jay Watch program.