Premature Celebrations: Scott Silent on Park Closures. Legislature May Still Ax Some.
FlaglerLive | February 11, 2011
Celebrations may be premature.
Washington Oaks Gardens State Park and Bulow Creek State Park may not close. At least not according to Gov. Rick Scott’s recommendations. But Scott won’t decide. The two parks were among 53 that the Department of Environmental Protection had slated for closure should budget cuts be necessary. When Gov. Rick Scott unveiled his budget on Monday, the closures were not included. Rather, the governor is shooting for a 3 percent increase in park attendance.
“We’re very happy with that,” Jonathan Webber, Florida Audubon Society’s conservation campaign manager, said today from Tallahassee. The society had organized a “53 Parks, 53 Days” campaign to encourage visits to the parks and heighten awareness about their importance to counter the closure proposal. The campaign kicked off Monday at Washington Oaks Gardens.
- From Flagler’s Washington Oaks, Fla. Audubon Launches Campaign to Save 53 State Parks
- Skipping Specifics, Scott Calls for $5 billion in Spending Cuts, $4 Billion in Tax Cuts
- Washington Oaks Gardens and Bulow Ruins Among 53 State Parks That Would Close
The campaign is still on, because the parks aren’t in the clear: the Legislature sets the budget, not the governor. Lawmakers have been severely critical of other aspects of Scott’s budget all week, particularly his proposed cuts to education, as he attempts to close a $4 billion budget deficit. Should lawmakers decide to go against Scott’s recommended cuts in other areas, they may again look at the Department of Environmental Protection’s proposal as a viable option. And both Scott and the Legislature are looking more broadly at other cuts that would affect the state’s public lands.
Scott is proposing a cut of $149 million in the environmental department’s $1.5 billion budget, a significant 10 percent cut, including the elimination of 120 jobs out of 3,431. Scott’s budget includes no funding for Florida Forever, the state’s land conservation and acquisition program. It includes a 66 percent funding reduction for the 10-year-old Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, and he is proposing to merge merge the Florida Department of Environmental Protection with the Department of Community Affairs and the Department of Transportation.
Any of those proposals could be bargained on or off the table as a large new class of freshmen legislators negotiate the next budget. “We don’t know how they’re going to receive the governor’s recommendations,” Webber said. “Anything is a possibility. It’s a new climate.”
“You get rid of the government that protects these places,” Florida Audubon Executive Director Eric Draper told the Naples Daily News,“you turn them over to the pirates.”
Meanwhile, park supports are looking at the brighter side.
“The people rose up and fought for the parks,” Sen. Tony Hill, D-Jacksonville, told the St. Augustine Record. “And, because of that, the governor’s office has called off the plans to close the state parks.” He may have been overplaying the issue: It isn’t clear whether the Audubon Society’s campaign played into the governor’s budget recommendations, since those were prepared likely ahead of of Monday’s unveiling. Audubon and others like to think the pressure that had begun to build before Monday may have influenced the governor’s direction.
FlaglerLive’s Charlotte Marten‘s report on Florida Audubon’s campaign.
Other Video Reports: