Last week, the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee held its first meeting in preparation for the 2015 Legislative Session, and a discussion of Amendment 1 was the only item on the agenda. The Committee’s Policy Director, Pepper Uchino, gave a presentation on the text of the amendment and the many “pots” into which the trust fund revenues could be allocated in accordance with the amendment. These include land acquisition, as well as wildlife management, Everglades areas, beaches and shores, recreational lands, farms and ranches, historical and geologic sites, as well as management and restoration of natural systems and debt service.
Mr. Uchino also presented revised estimates of the documentary stamp distributions, which range from $757.7 million in Fiscal Year 2015-16 to $1.55 billion in the final year 2034-35. It was explained that the statutory distribution structure in §201.15, Florida Statutes would have to be revised to comport with the new constitutional requirement (given the administrative costs, service charges and current trust fund distributions), and that current distributions toward environmental purposes (“qualifying expenditures”) totaled approximately 20.4% or 470.3 million.
A representative of the Amendment sponsors briefly addressed the committee and provided recommendations for FY 2015-16 appropriations. These recommendations would allocate the majority of the revenues for debt service, land acquisition and the Everglades, with a smaller percentage dedicated to springs protection and beach management. Not surprisingly, members of the Committee received these recommendations with differing opinions on the interpretation of the amendment text. Some agreed that a majority of the revenues should be spent on land acquisition, some thought that managing lands already in public ownership was more important than acquiring new parcels, and others interpret the amendment text broadly such that any projects that further the goal of water resource protection would comport with the mandate.
The Committee announced that it has created a new link on the Florida Senate website (flsenate.gov) entitled “Water and Land Conservation” which would be dedicated to Amendment 1 issues. With this new link, Floridians can submit written comments, monitor committee activity and records, and access and review relevant documents. In commencing the new link this week, Chairman Dean stated “Florida’s environment impacts every single resident and visitor to our state, so we want to be certain that we hear from Floridians with specific ideas for how to implement this constitutional amendment,” said Chair Dean. “This webpage gives all interested citizens the opportunity to play a meaningful role in the legislative process.” Senate President Andy Gardiner added, “Implementing this amendment is a historic responsibility and a tremendous opportunity to make a significant impact on the future of water and natural resources policy in our state. It is important for all interested Floridians to make their voices heard on existing and new programs to improve and protect Florida’s environment.”