Count former Gov. Bob Graham among those who were not overwhelmed by an environmental-funding proposal released this week by Gov. Rick Scott.
Graham, a Democrat who also served in the U.S. Senate, said Scott’s proposal to spend $50 million on the once-celebrated Florida Forever preservation program doesn’t meet the needs of the program.
“We have to decide the kind of Florida we want to leave behind for future generations,” said Graham, whose daughter Gwen is running for governor in 2018. “The only way to leave behind a better Florida is to make significant investments to conserve Florida’s most critical natural and working landscapes now.”
Bob Graham is chairman of the Florida Conservation Coalition, which includes groups such as Audubon Florida, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, Defenders of Wildlife, the Florida Conservation Voters Education Fund, the Florida Wildlife Federation, the League of Women Voters, 1000 Friends of Florida, the Sierra Club, St. Johns Riverkeeper and The Trust for Public Land.
On Monday, Scott announced that his budget recommendation for the 2018 legislative session will include a $1.7 billion environmental package — up $220 million from the current year. It would increase funding for the state’s springs, beaches, and parks, along with providing $355 million for Everglades restoration and $50 million for Florida Forever.
Most of the money would come through a 2014 constitutional amendment that required setting aside a portion of a real-estate tax for land and water conservation. The documentary stamp tax is expected to generate $862.2 million next fiscal year for a trust fund used to carry out the amendment, according to an August estimate by state economists.
The Florida Conservation Coalition believes the largest part of that money, about $300 million a year, should go into statewide conservation programs, including the Florida Forever priority list, the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program and the Florida Communities Trust program. In the past, Florida Forever received about $300 million annually before facing major cutbacks in recent years.
“All we’re asking is that current state leadership continue a decades-long tradition of protecting the lands that are critical for our economy and our quality of life,” Bob Graham said.
Scott outlined the budget proposal as a way to protect more than the natural beauty of the state’s resources.
“Our natural treasures are so important to Florida’s economy and tourism industry and the many families that rely on them,” Scott said in a prepared statement.
After the proposal was announced, the governor’s office on Monday issued a list of quotes from environmental groups praising the funding proposal.
The package includes $55 million for natural springs, $100 million for beaches and $50 million for the state parks.
The Senate, meanwhile, has started moving forward with a bill (SB 174) by Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, that would annually earmark $50 million for beach nourishment and inlet-management projects.
Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, has also proposed a measure (SB 204) that would provide $75 million a year for natural springs.
Bradley has a separate measure (SB 370) that would set aside at least $100 million a year for Florida Forever.
by Jim Turner and Lloyd Dunkelberger, News Service of Florida