First Coast Connect: McCarthy Discusses Possible Defunding Of Florida Land Acquisition Trust Fund

May 2, 2017

The Florida Legislature might vote to stop allocating money to the Florida Land Acquisition Trust Fund in the upcoming budget.

However, Jim McCarthy, chair of the North Florida Land Trust, said this goes against Amendment 1, which was passed by Florida voters by more than 70 percent in 2014, and shared his concerns about the issue Tuesday on First Coast Connect.

“We think (Amendment 1) is very simple,” McCarthy said. “It has been subject to misinterpretation and reinterpretation.”

Amendment 1 sets aside a third of the real estate transaction tax, or doc stamp tax, and guarantees funds can be used only for conservation purposes. But no funding has been allocated for conservation this year. As of now, $15.2 million allocated for this cause has been zeroed out, McCarthy said.  

“And here the state legislature has just ignored that,” he said. “Ignored the constitutional amendment, ignored — in some cases — the will and wishes of their own constituents and have zeroed out that money.”

Some lawmakers say they are defining the details of the ballot initiative, but McCarthy is skeptical.

“Refining is one thing but zeroing it out is something totally different,” he said. “What they’re doing is turning their back, literally, on what the voters wanted them to do.”

According to McCarthy, some of the money that was supposed to be allocated to the North Florida Land Trust is being diverted to a bill proposed by Senate President Joe Negron, which calls for the construction of a storage and cleaning reservoir in the Everglades.

But McCarthy said a competing bill, proposed last week by Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, will restore funding to the Florida Forever land acquisition program. Caldwell said building reservoirs does not fall under “conservation purposes” and should not take funds from Florida Forever. The House is expected to vote on the bill this week, McCarthy said.

“There’s a lot of last minute wrangling,” he said. “This truly is sausage being made. This is a pretty ugly process.”

Photo used under Creative Commons license.

News Intern Veronica Hall can be reached at newsteam@wjct.org