Credit: Carol Bailey, May 30, 2015 Rally for Amendment 1 at Walter Jones Historical Park
Floridians overwhelmingly supported Amendment 1 with 75% of the vote, yet the Florida Legislature has decided to brazenly ignore the will of the people.
The Water and Land Conservation Amendment requires that 33 percent of the proceeds from real estate documentary-stamp taxes go for land acquisition for the next 20 years. For the upcoming year, the share of the real-estate tax is projected to bring in more than $740 million.
Despite this clear mandate from voters, the Legislature only appropriated $15.1 million in Amendment 1 funds and a total of $17.4 million to Florida Forever, our state's highly-successful land conservation program. However, Florida’s Water & Land Legacy estimated that nearly $230 million will be used as a substitute for general fund dollars and other sources to fund existing operating and adminstrative expenses for other environmental programs.
Unfortunately, we, the citizens, are left with no other option but to take legal action to force our legislators to do their jobs. As a result, St. Johns Riverkeeper has joined Florida Wildllife Federation, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, and Earthjustice in a lawsuit to compel the Florida Legislature to comply with our state constitution.
Conservation lands are absolutely critical to protecting our waterways and ultimately restoring the St. Johns River. Now, with significant growth on the horizon, it is more important than ever that we acquire and protect essential wetlands, aquifer and spring recharge areas, and habitat for wildlife.
Rallies were held across the state at the beginning of the special legislative session to urge our legislators to finish the job and fund conservation as voters had mandated. Unfortunately, that didn't work, so we now must rely on the courts to get the job done. We'll keep you posted.
Read these recent editorials for more information about this issue:
Editorial: Real rip-off for Real Florida, Pensacola News Journal 6.20.15
"That was the will of the people. Loud and clear.
Florida legislators have spoken loud and clear, too: 'To hell with the will of the people.'"
Our View: A bait-and-switch on Amendment 1, The Daytona Beach News-Journal 6.20.15
"The more outrageous betrayal of Amendment 1 is how lawmakers spent about half the money on projects and programs that in the past were paid for out of other parts of the budget, including such routine recurring expenses as salaries and overhead, and new patrol vehicles for wildlife officers."
Editorial: The Florida Legislature's Amendment 1 fraud, Tampa Bay Times 6.17.15
"Months after voters overwhelmingly approved spending hundreds of millions in additional money to protect endangered waters and lands, legislators are poised to spend less on the environment than before Amendment 1 was on the ballot."
Also, contact your state legislators and let them know of your disappointment. Tell them that Amendment 1 was intended to restore and enhance funding for land conservation, not replace funding for existing operational expenses for other environmental programs. Numerous important properties remain on the state's conservation priority list. These lands have already been thoroughly vetted and are long overdue for purchase. As the economy picks up, so will the pressure to develop these critical ecological resources.