Writer Lauren Ritchie of the Orlando Sentinel tells it like it is. Will anyone listen?
Legislators should ignore State Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, and fund Florida Forever
Sen. Alan Hays should do what voters ordered
A special session of the Legislature is going on in Tallahassee because state representatives walked out like petulant children on April 28 instead of staying to hammer out a budget.
It is the first time in 23 years the Legislature adjourned without even a preliminary budget that could be negotiated by committee.
Besides the budget, elected officials have to settle other critical questions such as whether to expand the Medicaid program to get billions in federal funding and how much money should be spent on education. The two chambers are about $1 billion apart on that last one.
And there is Amendment 1, which seems like to get lost in this 20-day free-for-all.
Voters in November approved the ballot initiative that requires 33 percent of the proceeds from an already-existing real-estate tax called documentary stamps to be spent on buying property for land and water conservation and to maintain those properties. The amendment was designed to bolster the Florida Forever program, a popular land-buying initiative that all but disappeared under Gov. Rick Scott’s budget cuts.
Instead of crafting a thoughtful spending program as ordered, legislators spent the session figuring out how to get around doing what 75 percent of the voters told them to do, and the senator leading the nose-thumbing at voters is Lake County’s very own Alan Hays.
Hays, R-Umatilla, chaired the Senate committee that said only $2 million of the $750 million the tax would raise annually should go to Florida Forever. That’s a miniscule .27 percent of what voters loudly and clearly said they wanted. Does Hays make you proud, Lake County?
After a torrent of angry emails from folks who rightly felt betrayed by their elected “representatives,” the Senate then allocated $17 million for Florida Forever and another $20 million for preservation projects at Florida’s various springs.
If Hays had his way, the biggest chunk of the Amendment 1 money would be lost in paying the salaries of state employees and agency operations, leaving no permanent legacy for the next generation, as voters intended. Dumping $230 million or so into the spending pit of operations would leave the same amount for Hays and his cronies to spend any way they want. And they’ve done such a great job when left to their own devices, haven’t they?
Property that needs protection has been languishing on Florida Forever’s list since 2009, when the $300 million or so annual funding stopped. Up for purchase is land in the Green Swamp, the source of most of the water in the dwindling Floridan Aquifer and the area that gives rise to four rivers. Experts say that only 39 percent of the swamp is protected from development.
“We don’t need to be known as the hoarding-land state,” Hays said during a meeting of the subcommittee that allocates Amendment 1 money. “We need to be known as good stewards of the resources that the people own.”
Hays, a part-time dentist and full-time ideologue, is no expert on Florida hydrology. He is entitled to keep espousing his uninformed opinion, but he’s not entitled to ignore voters. The hubris of an elected official who thinks he knows better is disgusting. Just because Hays is on the side of Big Agriculture and Big Development doesn’t mean the rest of Florida’s population is.
The reason voters resorted to forcing the issue through the awkward mechanism of a constitutional amendment is because their elected officials refuse to do what they want. It’s just that simple.
What part of “Do as you’re told” isn’t Hays and the rest of the Legislature getting?
Lritchie@tribune.com. Lauren invites you to send her a friend request on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com./laurenonlake.