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Pro-Everglades groups kick off petition effort to secure lands

By on August 7, 2012

Future funding for Everglades restoration and other environmental programs would be enshrined in the state constitution under a ballot imitative proposal to guarantee the spending of $10 billion on such programs over the next 20 years, reports Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida.

Frustrated over withering funds for the state’s marquee land buying program, Florida Forever, and sporadic funding for a host of other environmental concerns from drinking water and springs to beaches and historic sites, a coalition of environmental groups on Tuesday launched a volunteer effort to begin gathering signatures to put the issue on the ballot in 2014.

Dubbed the Florida Water and Land Legacy Campaign, the petition drive is being pushed by a coalition of groups that include the Trust for Public Land, the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, 1000 Friends of Florida, and Defenders of Wildlife.

“We’ve been left with no options,” said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida.

For years, lawmakers set aside about $300 million a year for land-buying, but have rejected that type of spending in the economic downturn of the most recent few years. Since 2009, the state has set aside a total of $23 million for Florida Forever. In 2012, lawmakers earmarked only $8.5 million and prohibited state officials from buying new land.

“When it comes to dedicating funding to protect Florida’s environment, the Great Recession has led to a complete depression,” said Manley Fuller, president of the Florida Wildlife Federation, in a statement. “State funding to protect our most precious natural resources has slowed to a trickle.”

The amendment would require that 33 percent of all document tax revenue be earmarked for Everglades restoration and other environmental programs for the next 20 years. The proposal would go into effect July 1 2015. Collections would be deposited into the state’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund, not general revenue.

Before any vote, the group must gather at least 676,811 signatures to put the issue on the ballot. The Florida Supreme Court would also have to approve the ballot title and summary and determine that it satisfies the state’s single subject rule, which prohibits citizen petitions from encompassing multiple issues.

The court however, won’t review the ballot language until the coalition has turned in more than 67,811 signatures, a milestone Draper said the group hopes to complete by the end of the year. Once on the ballot, it would have to be approved by at least 60 percent of voters.

Since its inception, Florida Forever and its predecessor, Preservation 2000, have funded the purchase of more than 2.5 million acres of environmentally sensitive lands, according to the Department of Environmental Protection. Since July 2001, Florida Forever has acquired more than 682,000 acres of land at a cost of $2.9 billion.

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