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Money Could Flow To The Environment, Water Quality

Roberto Koltun
El Nuevo Herald

The Florida Senate is topping Gov. Ron DeSantis’ request for environmental funding, despite early concerns about a tight budget and the need to react to Hurricane Michael.

The Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday released an initial $5.9 billion budget proposal that includes $656 million for Everglades restoration and water-quality efforts such as trying to reduce future outbreaks of toxic algae and red tide.

DeSantis has requested $625 million for the fiscal year that starts July 1 as part of a four-year, $2.5 billion environmental plan. The House on Tuesday introduced a proposal that included $607.4 million toward DeSantis’ goal.

“We are excited about our budget,” said Sen. Debbie Mayfield, a Rockledge Republican who chairs the Senate Agriculture, Environment and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee.

The full House and Senate in the coming weeks will approve overall budgets and then enter negotiations on a final spending plan for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, which starts July 1.

As lawmakers started to review spending issues earlier this month Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said the governor’s environmental request may be “pushing” the limits of a budget expected to be stretched because of the response to Hurricane Michael.

But in the proposal from the Senate, $360 million would go to Everglades restoration, including $107 for the Everglades Agricultural Area Reservoir approved by lawmakers in 2017, and $100 million would go to the state’s natural springs.

The House proposal features $327.4 million for work in the Everglades and $50 million for springs. During the current year, $50 million is going to springs projects.

The Senate is also putting up $40 million for alternative water supplies and $129 million for water-quality improvements, which includes $25 million for septic-to-sewer conversion efforts.

Both the Senate and House are seeking $10.8 million to increase water-quality monitoring and the establishment of a Blue Green Algae Task Force within the Department of Environmental Protection.

The Senate is offering $6.6 million to research red tide while the House has $4.2 million for the creation of the Center for Red Tide Research within the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The House has put up $26 million, to the $29.6 million sought by the Senate, for local water projects across the state.

Meanwhile, the Senate wants $45 million for the Florida Forever land-preservation program, $44.4 million for beach restoration, $15 million for state park improvements and $8 million for citrus greening research.

The House has proposed $20 million for Florida Forever, $50 million for beach repairs, $48 million for state park repairs and $14.6 million toward citrus greening research.

The House also is also offering $58.1 million for citrus-canker payments to residents in Lee and Orange counties, something that isn’t in the Senate proposal.

Legislators agreed to pay the money to compensate residents who lost orange, grapefruit and other citrus trees as part of a Florida Department of Agriculture program to stop the spread of deadly citrus-canker disease.

Attorneys for the homeowners raised property-rights arguments in challenging the department's actions, and a judgment was entered in 2008.

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