Saturday's citizen rally in downtown Bradenton by supporters of Amendment 1 illustrates voter frustration with lawmakers. We share that dissatisfaction. There are certainly indications that legislators will fail to live up to the spirit of the land and water conservation measure.
The amendment passed in 2014 with 75 percent of the vote, and the will of people came with a loud voice. Bradenton's rally was among 10 across the state.
The protesters rightfully demanded the Legislature fully fund the popular Florida Forever land-acquisition program, starved of resources for years; allocate meaningful money for projects to restore the Everglades; and clean up and protect rivers, lakes and springs.
Those and other ecosystem investments are what voters expected with Amendment 1's mandate that the state spend a third of the revenue from the documentary stamp tax on environmental preservation and conservation over the next two decades. The total could amount to some $22 billion with about $750 million available the first year.
Lawmakers have a chance to do right by citizens during the three-week special session on the budget and spending, which began Monday. Action during the regular session points to justification for the fears of advocates of the Water and Land Conservation Amendment.
When launched in 1999, Florida Forever was authorized to spend up to $300 million annually. That last occurred in 2009. The total plunged to a paltry $8 million in 2012, helping to propel a citizens amendment initiative to force the state to heed popular demand for environmental spending.
House Bill 15A, filed last week by Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, caps annual funding for the Florida Forever conservation program at that $300 million mark. Whether the full House and Senate fully fund the popular program remains in doubt.
During the regular session, the House set aside only some $10 million for Florida Forever purchases of recreation and conservation lands. Initially, the Senate budget containted only $2 million but howls of protest compelled the chamber to boost funding to $35 with another $20 million for land for springs restoration. Still, neither figure comes close to serving the will of the people.
The Legislature has a history of working around amendments that Floridians favor. That occurred with the state lottery amendment. Instead of adding to education spending, lottery funds just replaced previous allocations, handing lawmakers more money to spend elsewhere.
In a commentary written exclusively for the Herald, Boyd says his bill ensures that 33 percent of the documentary stamp tax revenues are deposited into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund for Amendment 1 spending. His bill, however, does not allocate funds to specific programs other than to pay for current environmental bonds and some Everglades restoration.
The Senate and the House hold all the money cards. If lawmakers interpret amendment language as allowing funds to be spent on current state environmental agency operations, as was once proposed, then the will of the people will once again have been trashed.
The Legislature has the opportunity for a do-over on land-purchasing budgets. Since the public expects major expenditures in this arena, lawmakers can start with fully funding Florida Forever. Land buys to build a reservoir to clean polluted Lake Okeechobee waters that foul vital estuaries would be an excellent start.
What is paramount here is clean water, public health and robust ecosystems are essential to Florida's future. Now's the time for the Legislature to follow voter intent.