“Ignoring voters’ mandate to satisfy special interests. This is a case of givers pitted against takers. Can you figure out who are the givers and who are the takers?”
Publisher and Editor Barbara Llewellyn of the Alachua-High Springs- Newberry Observer invited OSFR to contribute a guest editorial about the sad fate of Amendment 1 allocations and the travesty in Tallahassee committed by our leaders and lawmakers.
A great deal of ink has been expended for over a year on Amendment 1, first in its creation and passage, and then its disposition. And there is no end in sight. The campaign to win over the people of Florida was organized, well run and successful. The struggle to convince our legislators to follow through with the spirit and intent of the new amendment has been found to be more difficult and much less successful.
Aliki Moncrief of Florida Water and Land Legacy, one of the initiators of the amendment’s creation and then one of the managers of the campaign says: “The intent of the Water and Land Conservation Amendment, as ratified by an overwhelming majority of Florida voters, is to restore spending for a highly successful group of long-standing programs authorized in Florida statutes. The amendment was drafted so that no implementing legislation is required and so that the Legislature could simply appropriate funds to existing water and land conservation programs.”
However, the Legislature simply did not do that. The 2015 Legislature did a complete gut-ripper on the amendment. According to Moncrief, nearly 230 million of amendment-generated funds will be used as a substitute for general fund dollars and other sources to fund existing programs instead of going to make up for cuts in land conservation purchases that resulted from the recent recession. The new budget for 2015-16 allocates only 15.1 million of Amendment 1 funds and a total of 17.4 million into Florida Forever. Formerly the state put about 300 million per year in the program.
From the onset of the bill’s proposal, it had some powerful opponents, among them then-Senate President Don Gaetz, then-House Speaker Will Weatherford, recent-Senate President Andy Gardiner, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, and several organizations favoring industrial water use, such as Florida Chamber of Commerce, Florida Council of 100, and the Florida Farm Bureau. In 2014, the Associated Industries of Florida formed the Florida H20 Coalition to combat Amendment 1. This is a very active and vocal non-profit organization which purports to support sustainability of the environment, but which conversely works to exploit water resources and discourages the purposes of the amendment.
The special interest groups and power icons listed above, formidable as they may be, suffered a smacking defeat on Nov. 4, 2014 when 75 percent of the voters approved this amendment. The reason the new law was written as a constitutional amendment and not a statute was that it would be embedded in “constitutional concrete” and thus not susceptible to legislators’ shenanigans such as adding, detracting, snipping away and changing the wording to suit their special wants and favors owed to those to whom they might be beholden.
But these groups have not given up. As far back as just a few weeks after the elections, Sen. David Simmons said he thought the “…ballot language did not exclusively put money toward conservation and did allow lawmakers to use the money to replace general fund dollars. Rep. Ben Albritton takes an even harder line by saying that the amendment “…authorized spending in a broad series of areas, not just on the purchase of conservation land, and the Legislature was implementing the ‘letter and spirit’ of the measure.” Senators Andy Gardiner, Alan Hays and Rep. Steve Crisafulli have all been very vocal in giving their personal opinions and interpretations of this simple and clear law. They choose to read in to it their personal wishes and ignore those millions of voters who took it for what it says when they turned in their ballots.
Just about all environmental groups will disagree with Rep. Albritton’s “letter and spirit” quote, so much so that on June 22 2015, three of them filed suit in Leon County to take Albritton, Simmons and their lawmaker colleagues to court. Those filing were the Florida Wildlife Federation, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida. One of the groups’ lawyers is Earthjustice attorney David Guest, who has written before on behalf of the amendment. His predictions back in January of 2015 seem to have come true: “…we citizens need to watch closely to make sure that special interests and their politician friends don’t try to make an end-run around the voters’ will.”
Lisa Rinaman of St. Johns Riverkeeper nails it when she says “It’s sad that a positive groundswell of popular support for conserving Florida’s best places has come to this. It’s a shame we have to go to court to force legislators to do what their constituents directed.”
The final chapter of this saga has yet to be played out. We can hope that the judge who oversees this case is honest, intelligent and has a sense of fairness. This is a case of givers pitted against takers. Lots of time, energy, money, volunteer hours, greed, and stress have been invested in this controversy. Can you figure out who are the givers and who are the takers?
 Personal email from Aliki Moncrief to Merrilleeart@aol.com Jan 7, 2015
 Gainesville Sun p. 7a, June 21, 2015
 Gainesville Sun, Dec.14, 2015
 Sarasota Herald Tribune, Jan. 7 2015
 Sunshine State News June 22, 2015
Thanks go to Barbara Llewellyn and her fine newspaper for allowing us to publish our views on this important issue.