Editorials

Bradenton Herald recommends approval of Amendment 1 on Water and Land Conservation

Amendment 1 on the November ballot -- officially titled "Water and Land Conservation" -- would put a premium on funding for a broad swath of environmental programs. This citizens initiative, placed on the ballot via signature petitions, forces the Legislature to adhere to the spirit of the Florida Forever Act.

That land conservation law was designed to receive $300 million annually from the existing documentary stamp tax, which is applied to real estate transactions. Another $100 million a year from another trust fund, the Water Sustainability Act, had been invested in the protection of the state's waterways, springs and drinking water as well as fish and wildlife habitats.

But during the four years of Gov. Rick Scott's administration, the Legislature diverted trust fund dollars elsewhere and only a shade under $29 million went into Florida Forever projects.

The broken promise of environmental protection fueled a citizen backlash that spawned Amendment 1. Under the proposal, 33 percent of the net revenue from the stamp tax would be dedicated to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to be spent on improving beaches and shores, wetlands and forests, recreational trails and parks -- even working farms and ranches through conservation easements. Everglades restoration also falls under this umbrella.

This dedicated funding source, set to expire in fiscal year 2034-2035, would pour an estimated $648 million into the trust during FY 2015-2016. Over the life of the amendment, the state's official financial impact statement estimates $19.1 billion would be dedicated to environmental programs. The amendment does not directly impact state revenues or taxes.

This trust fund is essential to the management and restoration of ecosystems and enhances recreational opportunities and public access of conservation lands. Florida's environment is a precious commodity, one that drives the tourism industry.

With many of the state's springs and other waterways succumbing to pollution and other threats, Florida must reverse this slide or risk further harm to our quality of life and our golden industry. From sport fishing to bird watching, our natural resources play a pivotal role in tourism.

Amendment opponents argue the state Constitution is no place for budget mandates, but the Legislature cannot be trusted to fund environmental programs, as evidenced by the past four years of raiding trust funds dedicated to that purpose.

Should the required 60 percent of Florida voters approve Amendment 1, the state would join 11 others with constitutional requirements for appropriations for water and land conservation and management. The will of the people trumped the power of elected representatives in those 11 states, and Florida voters now have the opportunity to impose their will. Since 1998, voters in another 24 states passed laws funding land conservation.

The Herald Editorial Board recommends Florida voters champion environmental protection and restoration as a vital investment in the future and approve Amendment 1.

Official ballot summary

"Funds the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands including wetlands and forests; fish and wildlife habitat; lands protecting water resources and drinking water sources, including the Everglades, and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams; beaches and shores; outdoor recreational lands; working farms and ranches; and historic or geologic sites, by dedicating 33 percent of net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents for 20 years."

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