Lawmakers Must Keep Spirit of Amendment 1- OSFR Op-Ed

As a young lad when I began to make my way into the world, one of the first lessons of life that I learned was that, if you acquired something of value, someone would soon appear who would try to take it from you.  Call it human nature, law of the jungle, or whatever.  Case in point – Amendment 1.

The following article appeared today Feb. 13, 2015 in the Gainesville Sun.  You can see it in the original form here, or just continue reading:

Lawmakers must keep spirit and intent of Amendment 1

Published: Friday, February 13, 2015 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 11, 2015 at 10:33 p.m.

 Wow! We just got $757.7 million to spend next year.  How will we spend it?

No, we didn’t win the lottery. This is the amount Amendment 1 will bring in just one year to help restore and preserve Florida’s environment. Over the next 20 years, it is projected to bring in between $10 and $22 billion. Many of those who voted for the amendment would like to see about one third go to springs restoration and protection.

This yearly amount is less than the $300 million that the existing Florida Forever land acquisition program formerly counted on per year before being decimated in 2009. It is safe to say that the voters who put Amendment 1 into the state constitution had not forgotten this and wanted to restore the health and purposes of this program when they overwhelmingly approved the amendment last November.

Ever since the initial celebration and jubilation by environmentalists immediately following the landslide passage of Amendment 1, there have been increasing concerns about how the windfall of funds will be spent.

Some groups want huge percentages spent on things not emphasized in the land acquisition program, such as on septic tanks and water supply. Items such as these and similar ones such as wastewater infrastructure can be addressed locally and by state-insured bonds and by funding sources such as the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, and not Amendment 1.

Environmentalists are rightly suspicious of their legislators when it involves issues of protecting our state’s natural resources. When it comes down to the dollar, it seems historically that big corporations usually end up on the fat side and the environment on the lean.

Merr-Sen-Deanpost
Pres. Malwitz-Jipson & Sen. Dean

Activity has already begun in Tallahassee, as Sen. Charles Dean, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation, has already convened a public meeting and is calling for citizens’ input as to dividing up the allocations. As of this writing, he has received more than 4,000 responses.

Two main concerns have surfaced regarding the Amendment 1 issue. One is a concern as to how much of the funds will be used for what program, and that the allocations must be faithful to the categories outlined in the amendment as voted on by the people. The second is that the current funding for environmental programs not be eliminated and used elsewhere since a lot of new monies will come from Amendment 1.

Senate President Andy Gardiner has issued a memo explaining that Florida law-makers are required to do three things to implement the amendment:

Transfer 33 percent of the documentary stamp tax money to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF) which is within the DEP (about $457.7 million for next fiscal year).

Use this money as specified in the amendment.

Prevent the co-mingling of these funds with the state’s general revenue.

Sen. Dean has proposed six new bills that effect the redirecting of funding for existing programs. This redirecting will eliminate their trust funds, but now the dollars from the amendment will be identifiable and will remain traceable.

Seven now-existing trust funds will be terminated, although their programs will continue. If these trust funds are now already being generated by the documentary stamp tax, then concerns for revenue loss would be unfounded, as these monies would not be shuttled elsewhere, just augmented by the new amendment. If, on the other hand, a substantial amount of the current trust fund monies are from general revenues and sources other than the doc stamp tax, then the concerns are that new funds should not be a substitute for them, or the overall result would be a loss for these programs.

The Legislature should definitely not use any of Amendment 1 funds to replace any of what the state spends at this time on springs protection or any other environmental programs — that funding should continue, and any programs now funded from general revenue should not be transferred over to the documentary stamp tax sources. This is the message we need to deliver to Sen. Dean’s office. To do so would defeat the purpose of the amendment and be contrary to its intent.

The current co-mingling of stamp tax funds, penalties, fines, fees and taxes makes it difficult if not impossible to determine exact amounts and exact sources. Perhaps that was designed that way for purposes of convenience.

Florida took a huge step in the right direction by adopting Amendment 1, but we are at a crucial moment. In order to hold on to what we are about to acquire, we must take some careful steps. The most important thing at this time is to let your legislators know that you want to keep the spirit and intent of the amendment.

Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson is president and Jim Tatum is historian of Our Santa Fe River Inc. Both are from Fort White.

OSFR is grateful to Nathan Crabbe and the Gainesville Sun for allowing us to reprint their articles in their entirety.

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