The biased and special-interest riddled Legislature that is Florida’s, continues to hold in lock-down the Amendment 1 funds that should be spent on the issues intended by the voters when they overwhelmingly approved the law.
It has become increasingly necessary to engage in litigation in order to prod our elected leaders to fulfill their obligations and responsibilities to their constituents.
Amendment 1 backers want case decided
James Call, Tallahassee Democrat 5:41 p.m. EDT June 1, 2016
Motion signals confidence in suit alleging lawmakers shortchanged the environment
Environmentalists want a judge to order the state to write a check for nearly $300 million.
Four environmental groups and Manny Fuller sued last June alleging the state misappropriated $300 million of Amendment 1 money in the current budget. Wednesday they filed a motion stating there was no need for a trial. In court documents, they argue the law is clear, as was voters’ intent when they approved the land conservation proposal with a 75-percent vote.
“What the Legislature did is not allowed so we moved the court decides the case,” said Alisa Coe, an attorney for the environmental groups.
Environmentalists want Judge George Reynolds III to find lawmakers made an improper authorization of Amendment 1 money and for $300 million to be deposited in the Land Acquistion Trust Fund to replace the misspent money.
The Legislature has yet to file a response to the motion.
Florida voters added a Water and Land Conservation provision to the state constitution in 2014. It diverts about a third of the money raised by a real estate stamp tax to buy and protect wildlife habitat, parks and water resources.
That should have been about $750 million in the current state budget with $300 million earmarked specifically for land buying instead of the $88 million actually appropriated, according to the suit. The plaintiffs argue lawmakers circumvented the will of the voters by spending Amendment 1 money on general expenses for the Department of Environmental Protection, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the State Department and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
“The Legislature tried to pull a fast one. They spent money on existing government salaries and expenses and wrapped it in an Amendment 1 bow,” said Coe.
The plaintiffs say stamp tax money can be used only for acquisition and restoration. Lawmakers counter that includes staff salaries and other expenses to acquire, manage and restore the land. The two have been arguing since the 2014 election. The judge will decide if legislative action squares with the intent of voters.
Senate President Andy Gardiner, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Gov. Rick Scott are defendants in the case.
When the suit was filed last June, Gardiner, in a statement, said lawmakers spent the money in a way that, “not only meets, but by every measure exceeds the requirements of Amendment 1.”
Gardiner noted that the budget even supplemented the stamp tax money with general revenue.
The suit was filed in Leon County Circuit Civil Court by the Florida Wildlife Federation, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida.
Reporter James Call can be reached at [email protected] Follow on Twitter @CallTallahassee.