Five years after an amendment was added to Florida’s constitution to squirrel away money for buying conservation lands – the groups that pushed it are uniting behind a new common goal.
In 2014, about 75 percent of voters approved the Florida Water and Land Legacy ballot initiative. It requires 33 percent of documentary stamp taxes, applied to real estate transfers, to go toward the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. At the Capitol Monday, a handful of groups who supported the move gathered to call for renewed levels of funding to Florida Forever, the state’s land acquisition and preservation program.
Aliki Moncrief is Executive Director for Florida Conservation Voters.
“Yes, fully funding Florida Forever does mean reinstating that historical level of funding, which was $300 million a year,” Moncrief said, flanked by representatives from other conservation groups. “If the legislature wants to do more than that, that’s obviously fantastic. But at a minimum, fully funding is $300 million.”
Prior to 2009, the legislature had funded Florida forever for nearly 20 years at a recurring $300 million. After that, the program saw a drastic reduction in funding. This past legislative session saw $33 million allocated to the program. Since it was launched, Florida Forever has acquired about 720,000 acres.
But not all of the funds set aside by the amendment have gone exclusively to land purchases.
“When you look at those 5 years, at least a third of the funds have actually gone to what we would call operational or administrative expenses,” Moncrief said. “So to give you some examples, the Department of Environmental Protection, DEP’s IT department – about $6 million per year.”
Moncrief says prior to the change, those costs were being paid for through other sources like general revenue. Now, it’s coming entirely out of the Water and Land Conservation – which conservationists say is not what voters approved. It was the subject of a lawsuit brought against legislators by activist groups.