Group seeks to restore misplaced conservation dollars

click to enlarge Group seeks to restore misplaced conservation dollars -
Group seeks to restore misplaced conservation dollars

Remember last November, when you voted for Amendment 1, the law that sets aside a third of document stamp tax dollars (a funding source that is already there) explicitly for land and water conservation?

Well, if you voted for it, chances are you were probably pretty disgusted with the state legislature's "interpretation" of the new law: instead of using the money to buy critical environmental lands, it instead funded agencies and programs and personnel that already had a steady funding source, thereby freeing up more taxpayer dollars to give away to friends or whatever.

Now, the Florida Wildlife Federation and a couple of other environmental groups are doing what everyone else is doing when elected officials ignore the will of the voters (probably laughing into their cognac while doing so). They're going through the courts in order to compel the legislature to give back the Amendment 1 dollars it raided, to use as voters intended.

“The voters who approved the Water and Land Conservation Amendment 1 last November are clear — by a 75 percent majority — that they want this tax money to buy conservation land,” Florida Wildlife Federation president Manley Fuller said in a written statement. “In our court filing today, we point out that the Legislature took the land conservation money and earmarked it for a variety of things it isn’t supposed to pay for, including worker’s comp claims and executive salaries.”

The injunction, filed in a Leon County court, is part of ongoing litigation over the lawmakers', erm, creative interpretation of Amendment 1, and asks the state use surplus money to replenish the state's Land Acquisition Trust Fund.

See, instead of using the money to, say, help fund beach nourishment projects, buy up lands containing crucial aquifer recharge sites or, hell, create a statewide network of cycling trails that would probably boost tourism, according to an FWF media release, they slated the money for things like:

- Risk management insurance for various departments, including Environmental Protection, Agriculture and Fish and Wildlife, covering liability for — get this — Civil Rights Act violation damages, as well as those pertaining to "negligent injuries to people and for property damage, and worker’s compensation claims." ($1,222,158)

- "Executive leadership and administrative services" for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's "wildlife programs." ($623,043)

- "Implementation of agricultural best management practices on non-conservation, privately owned lands." ($21,697,449, $5 million of which Gov. Rick Scott vetoed)

- Compensation for employees of DEP, Fish & Wildlife, Ag and the Department of State. ($174,078,574)

- Paying agricultural polluters "to keep their pollution on their own land" rather than, you know, dispose of it in more questionable ways. ($5,000,000)

The list is much longer, but you get the picture.

The group stresses that it does not want to yank funding from anything that was provided for using those dollars, but instead wants to apply surplus dollars to land acquisition and preservation, which was supposed to raise some $740 million in its first year.

“We understand that many of these programs are important state programs, but they should not be funded by the conservation amendment funds,” Fuller said. “They should be funded by other state revenue sources... We are hoping the court will correct the Legislature’s mistake, and return money to the conservation land-buying fund, because that is what the voters directed."

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