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Proposed Conservation Amendment: $5 Billion Over 10 Years, Without Raising Taxes

| October 5, 2012

Calling all petition-gathering volunteers. (Dori/Florida’s Water and Land Legacy)

Backers of a constitutional amendment to earmark funds for conservation lands kicked off their effort Thursday, saying they’ve engaged 2,000 volunteers to gather signatures to bring the issue to voters in 2014.

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham led a coalition of environmentalists and former state officials to highlight an upcoming campaign that if successful would earmark nearly $5 billion for conservation lands in the next 10 years without raising taxes.

The campaign “has as its objective continuing a commitment that Florida has had now for 50 years of acquiring land for the people to be saved and be used by the people and to be our legacy for the next generation of Floridians,” Graham said.

The proposed constitutional amendment, dubbed the Florida Water and Land Legacy Amendment, would set aside 33 percent of documentary tax collections for 20 years for land and water purchases, leases and restoration efforts. The taxes are collected on real estate and other legal transactions. Under the amendment, the monies deposited into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund will remain separate from the State’s General Revenue Fund. The amendment would provide more than $5 billion for water and land conservation in Florida over the next ten years and $10 billion over the 20-year life of the measure, without any tax increase.

The effort is seen as a successor to Florida Forever and its precursor, Preservation 2000, which together have helped preserve more than 2 million acres over the past two decades.

Rick Dantzler, a former state senator, said the goal is to ensure that the explosive growth that gobbled up parcels along Florida’s populous coasts would not have as devastating an effect on Florida’s agricultural inland regions.

While development has been stymied in recent years by the recession, Dantzler said demand will return and an “onslaught” of new residents will put pressure on regions of the state that have not yet been developed.

“What we are trying to do in the interior is try to prevent, frankly, our part of the state from going the way of some of the other parts of the state,” Dantzler said. “What we are trying to do is preserve our rural heritage. It really is a cultural thing.”

Florida’s commitment to protecting sensitive land and water spans generations and the tenure of governors from both parties going back to the 1980s, said Colleen Castile, a former Department of Environmental Protection secretary under Jeb Bush.

Since 1991, lawmakers had consistently provided $300 million annually for the Florida Forever and Preservation 2000 land-buying programs. But in recent years, funding has dried up as the state faced a series of tight budgets and growing concern by Republican leaders over costs of managing the state’s growing real estate holdings. since 2009, the Florida Legislature has provided only $23 million for the landmark Florida Forever program, a 97.5 percent reduction in previous funding. State appropriations for land management and ecological restoration, including the Everglades, have suffered similar declines.

In 2012, the Legislature allocated $8.5 million to safeguard important water protection areas and conservation lands. In light of a state budget of $60 billion, that means that for every dollar the state spends in 2012, less than two-hundredths of one penny will go to water and land conservation––less than $1 for each Floridian.

Campaign manager Pegeen Hanrahan said the group will rely heavily on volunteer petition gatherers but will also likely hire professionals to help them meet their goal in time for the 2014 election.

The Florida Water and Land Legacy Campaign brings together the Trust for Public Land, Audubon Florida, the Florida Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, 1000 Friends of Florida, Defenders of Wildlife, and others. The campaign will reach out to gain signatures of at least 676,811 registered voters to put the issue on the 2014 ballot.

To qualify for the ballot, the proposal must pass Florida Supreme Court review to ensure it is not misleading and doesn’t deal with multiple issues.

–Michael Peltier, News Service of Florida

Petition-gathering volunteers can sign up here. The video below explains the process.

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8 Responses for “Proposed Conservation Amendment: $5 Billion Over 10 Years, Without Raising Taxes”

  1. Gardener says:

    Yes, it is not a tax increase but it is still earmarks existing tax revenue. I like the idea although I imagine that money would have to be made up from somewhere else. There is another idea being floated by a private sector company in this area. It may be worth considering.


    It sounds interesting at least!

  2. Frank Denninger says:

    Florida’s Constitution should not be monkeyed with to satisfy special interests fixated on land acquisition like a drug addict is fixated on getting the next fix.
    Florida can’t even unload it’s current surplus lands inventory caused by Florida Forever and Bob Graham’s P-2000 and the same bunch wants to repeat the same mistakes at our expense again.
    Go Figure???
    Elected officials are elected and charged to decide where Florida’s tax revenues are utilized. The spending priorities shift due to unforeseen economic circumstances such as we are going through currently and will be for many years due to bad banking practices which are still continuing.
    Oh, and up until this article the amount of dollars to be sequestered reported by this amendments proponents has been 10 BILLION not 5 Billion. I am sure amendment proponents will have some slick excuse for such inaccuracy.

  3. Been there, done that says:

    Lived ass check to ass check in S. Fla. and don’t want to now. Will support this before everything is paved over.

  4. Dorothea says:

    @Frank Denninger

    Please provide a few sources for your comments. I read the amendment and a few news articles and, in fact, they do explain the 10 billion dollar figure and therefore you contention that this requires “some slick excuse” is not true.

    If you want to see a few knuckle-dragging apes, monkeying with the Florida Constitution, read the dozen or so amendments placed on the ballot by the Republican controlled Florida Legislature.

    If not for land acquisition programs like Florida Forever, our state and its unique and beautiful natural lands would have been long been gobbled up by real estate interests. I remember when beachside areas like Dania and Marco Island were incredibly beautiful natural beaches. More recently, I have watched Flagler County public access beaches shrinking. I fully support the effort to perserve the inland areas before they too, are gobbled up. If money is your prime concern about preserving natural lands, although not mine, these natural areas draw thousands of tourists who might choose other states to visit.


    Community Stake is a for profit business. The ideas do sound good, but I don’t want to replace what has worked for years with an unknown business venture. However, I don’t see why Community Stake can’t be tried in addition to the 2014 amendment .

  5. MBarr says:

    Please excuse my ignorance. But why does this need to be State Constitution Amendment?

    I assume this group is not proposing to increase the Doc Stamp Rate, so what program(s) is/are losing its/their funding by being diverted to this 33%? And by the way, this is just another tax calling itself a fee not unlike stormwater and utility “Fees”.

    FYI- There is NO certainty that the Legislature won’t steal the funds out of this Land Acquisition Trust Fund like they did with the SHIP Trust Fund a couple of years ago.

    I suggest they find another way to fund this effort.

    We need a lot more information about this and the other matters on this year’s ballot.

    • Frank Denninger says:

      MBarr – This misguided amendment will be on the 2014 ballot if it’s pushers get enough signatures on their petition.

  6. Gardener says:

    @MBarr I agree this does not need to be a constitutional amendment and it is misleading to suggest that no taxes are involved. Like you said, funds would have to be diverted from other programs to pay for this program. Conservation has proven popular with the public so it may pass regardless.

    @Dorothea. I understand that it may seem risky to involve a private company such as Community Stake in conserving lands. It is not clear to me how this company would make money but the ideas do sound positive. Who knows, maybe it will take for profit company like this to actually make a difference. Our political system doesn’t seem to be working. I agree with you, I say we give it a try!

  7. John Hitchcock says:

    United Waterfowlers – Florida (UW-F) opposes the language in this proposed amendment. The Board of Directors’ vote was unanimous.

    We encourage all Conservationists and Sportsmen to read the actual language before signing the petition. You can read the language here:

    And read the official UW-F position statement included below:

    “Regarding the efforts underway to amend the Florida State Constitution to include a Land Acquisition Trust Fund; the following is the UW-F official position regarding the language and funding source.

    The full text of the current proposed amendment can be found here:

    United Waterfowlers – Florida (UW-F) supports the concept of a constitutionally protected Water and Land Conservation Trust Fund if the intent is to ONLY fund public land acquisition, fund easements, and restore and maintain habitat and water quality. However, the current effort falls short in several ways…

    1) UW-F takes exception to the language regarding fund usage. The current language is too broad regarding acceptable fund uses. Current language would permit the use of funds for “improvements” that have little or nothing to do with conservation of water and land resources. Use of the terms “improve” and “improvement” in the current language along with a list to describe acceptable usage of funds is vague and would permit funds to be subverted from conservation spending to build nature centers, art galleries, hiking and equestrian trails, kiosks, stables, shooting ranges, and a range of other amenities which benefit special interests but do not help to acquire lands, create easements, or restore habitat and water. It would be irresponsible to fund any of these amenities for special interests with an amendment that is supposed to be about conservation.

    2) UW-F also takes exception to the funding mechanism. In our opinion, using existing funds already having been comingled with various agencies’ budgets would inordinately disrupt current restoration funding priorities and mechanisms, and existing conservation initiatives.

    Marketing this idea as The Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment is misleading. And bundling so much money (as much as $500 Million/year) into one fund purported to be about conservation is reckless and leaves many questions unanswered. UW-F believes that if this is passed using the current language, it could irreparably harm the various agencies’ ability to execute needed active management of habitat programs and science based restoration efforts intended to address wetland and water quality issues.

    Therefore, UW-F cannot support the effort as it is currently worded. UW-F supports revision of the language so that it is clear that funds are ONLY to be used for fee simple purchase of public lands, priority easements, and restoration and maintenance of habitat and water quality, with each priority equally funded annually.

    Also, UW-F would prefer an amendment based on the template used in Missouri, Arkansas, and Iowa, where sales and usage tax revenues would be the funding source. This would add funding to conservation rather than to simply shift priorities and change the decision makers. Using sales tax revenues would also be a fairer tax as all residents, tourists, and other visitors would help pay into the fund.

    We have a huge effort ahead of us if we want to restore and preserve the Florida we all know and love, and protect our water resources for future generations. This opportunity should not be squandered on a shopping list for special interests, nor should it be a power grab by special interest organizations and groups. A protected conservation trust fund is one of our last best opportunities to preserve and restore the wild places that remain in Florida. It must target TRUE CONSERVATION that benefits ALL Floridians.”

    John Hitchcock
    UW-F Board Chairman

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