LEGISLATIVE CIRCUS ALIVE AND WELL
As we predicted, and as some politicians promised, the legislature is busy diverting the funds from the Florida Forever Trust Fund to literally hundreds of pet projects. Perhaps the wording of Amendment 1 wasn’t clear enough to understand. Or perhaps, as representative Keith Perry stated on WUFT TV 2 days prior to the election, (to paraphrase) “The public has no right to tell us what we should do with their money.” Perry actually had the nerve to suggest a $12 million stipend from the Trust fund to scour out Bivens Arm in his back yard in Gainesville, a bowl of old swamp that is not even accessible to the public. It is simply amazing watching them grab their chunks of cash while disregarding the mandate of 4.8 million voters. It is as if they are elected to dictate to us rather for us to dictate to them.
At this juncture, the Senate and House are bantering over a couple of bills that will do a few “good” things for the land and water. But most of the proposed legislation is ineffective can-kicking. With politicians such as Senator Hays of Umatilla, who heads up the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee at the helm, very likely our efforts in gathering the petitions and educating the voters on the benefits of purchasing more land for conservation will be nullified if he gets his way. Senator Hays actually has designated a measly $2 million for land conservation. This is a slap in the voters’ faces to say the least, but it seems to be typical among the pro-growth leaders including the Governor. Senator Thad Altman of Brevard and Indian River Counties pronounced Senator Hays’ move to gut Florida Forever funding even more (84% decrease from last year) as unconstitutional in the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, March 18. He stated that Hays should not ignore the voters’ mandate in such a manner. Senator Hays’ reply was, “Let the record reflect that.” Apparently Hays sees himself as a dictator rather than as a representative of his constituents.
Florida has reached the critical mass in population, becoming the 3rd largest state in population. Florida’s economy is very closely aligned with its water. 60% of our income comes from tourism and 20% comes from agriculture. It is obvious the voters knew we have to put more land aside from development and to save what clean water is left as they voted by a 75% to 25% margin in favor of Amendment 1.
In speaking with David Cullen, our Florida Sierra Club lobbyist, I was convinced that there may be light at the end of the legislative tunnel. He feels that we may actually be able to persuade the legislators to beef up and accelerate the already-in-place requirements for clean water such as the Minimum Flows and Levels and Total Maximum Daily Loads if nothing else. To date, the policies of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the department of Agriculture and Consumer Services policies on clean water have been mediocre at best. In spite of these meager policies, the springs and rivers are remaining impaired by low flow rates and nutrient pollution. There should be a sense of urgency among the water managers and politicians, but, judging by their actions, that sense just isn’t there. Hopefully Cullen, along with the Audubons, Florida Defenders of the Environment, The Florida Conservation Coalition, and the multitude of like-minded environmental organizations will persuade the legislature to take a better approach to their deliberations in the coming weeks.