Amendment 1 allocations are coming down to the wire, as our leaders will consider their fate within the next few weeks. Please contact yours in Tallahassee and make known your wants. Rallies will happen tomorrow Sat. May 30, one near home in Alachua. Come out and shout, 10 am near Sonny’s BBQ.
Editorial: Conservation first
Published: Friday, May 29, 2015 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 28, 2015 at 7:58 p.m.p
Florida lawmakers keep finding new and creative ways to spend money from Amendment 1 on things other that its main purpose — acquiring and restoring conservation land.
The latest example is a plan to build a network of asphalt and concrete paths throughout the state
Senate President Andy Gardiner has made a priority of the bicycle and running paths, known as SunTrail. As the News Service of Florida reported, a plan to use Amendment 1 to pay for half of the $50 million a year cost of SunTrail will be considered during the special session that starts next week.
SunTrail is a good idea that would provide recreation and tourism benefits for the state. But when lawmakers are considering spending more on concrete paths than conserving land, something is seriously wrong with their priorities.
Amendment 1 backers are rallying Saturday across the state, urging lawmakers to dedicate more of the roughly $750 million set aside by the amendment toward land conservation. One of the rallies will be held on U.S. 441 in Alachua from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday.
Concerned readers should contact lawmakers to urge them to spend more of Amendment 1 on buying and protecting environmentally significant land. Contact information for local lawmakers can be found at www.gainesville.com/lawmakers.
If lawmakers question the need for additional land conservation, direct them to the list of 199 unfinished projects in the state’s core land-acquisition program, Florida Forever. Six of the projects are in Alachua County, including continuing to protect land between Paynes Prairie and Orange Lake and around Lake Santa Fe.
Florida Forever had received $300 million a year before funding fell to only about $56 million over the past six years, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported. The dwindling commitment is one of the reasons that nearly 75 percent of voters supported Amendment 1.
The measure dedicates one-third of revenue from an existing real-estate toward water and land conservation. It provides the opportunity to better protect natural resources such as our region’s depleted and polluted springs, along the aquifer that feeds them and supplies our drinking water.
Yet the Republican-controlled legislature saw it as a way to pay for existing obligations previously funded from other sources. As the Sun-Sentinel reported, the House and Senate had proposed to spend between $8 and $15 million from the amendment on Florida Forever — and more than $230 million toward routine government expenses.
The Senate budget included $1.3 million to replace patrol vehicles for wildlife officers and $34.5 million for officers who enforce hunting, fishing and boating rules.
The House budget included $4.9 million for technology and information services in the Department of Environmental Protection, $717,000 for salaries in the Division of Cultural Affairs and $839,000 for firefighting equipment for the Florida Forest Service.
It’s hard to believe that most Amendment 1 supporters were thinking about funding the ticketing of boaters and building concrete paths when they passed the measure. Let lawmakers know that the special session is their last chance to get it right.
Bike paths are nice, but lawmakers must protect the state’s environmentally significant land before ever considering spending money from Amendment 1 on other priorities.