Florida voters approved the conservation lands constitutional Amendment One by 75 percent in November. State government did not approve. Nor are officials inclined to obey the new law.
History bears this out. Florida lawmakers loathe voters who tell them what to do. That has proven true time and time again. "We the people" is just a pesky phrase to those who warm the seats in the Florida Senate and House chambers and also warm the seats with campaign donors -- mostly deep-pocketed companies and people who want their voices heard more loudly than the majority of voters. The Legislature is currently mired in legal entanglements over two voter-approved constitutional amendments, the Fair District laws that outlaw gerrymandering on congressional and state political districts. Those elected officials hate that citizens "meddle" in their affairs so they can no longer rig the system -- and actually serve all the people, not just the chosen. Our Founding Fathers would no doubt applaud the Fair District amendments and be appalled at the political battle to subvert the will of the people. The latest example of Tallahassee abuse of the voters' "we the people" demand comes with Amendment One. For whoever voted for this demand for land conservation, did you know you were voting for new cars for a state agency?
The 2014 ballot language stipulated that the state invest $10 billion over 20 years toward purchases of "lands protecting water resources and drinking water sources, including the Everglades, and the water quality of rivers, lakes and streams." That overwhelming public support came in response to Tallahassee's years-long funding neglect of a very popular program known as Florida Forever, the state's once-heralded way to acquire and protect sensitive property.
So, in the face of overwhelming voter approval of Amendment One, the tone-deaf Legislature allocated a nothing budget of $50 million for new land purchases. Florida's Land Acquisition Trust Fund was stocked with $550 million that could -- and should -- have been used to acquire unspoiled habitat and recreational lands. Voters intended 33 percent of the revenues from existing real-estate stamp taxes be spent on buying conservation and recreation lands, as well as the restoration of older state-owned lands.
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Instead, lawmakers are violating the public trust. Land acquisition? Good luck with that.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, an oft-mentioned candidate for governor, proposes spending several million dollars deposited into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund on purchasing cars, fixing roads and state forest service technology.
This was exactly the fear of many Floridians who distrust politicians to pay heed to voters' wishes. We got that message with the false promise of the Florida lottery revenue putting extra dollars into eduction when that money only supplanted the state's allocation. That bait and switch is exactly what appears to be occurring with Amendment One.
Cars instead of land acquisition? How could this possibly be justified with the 4 million voters who approved Amendment One? Would any Floridian go for this?
Spending on vehicles should come out of Putnam's department budget from the state, not land conservation dollars. "We the people" are apparently once again dupes to untrustworthy politicians. We must fight back. And basically scream at Tallahassee that this abuse of "we the people" is unacceptable.