One of the most disturbing aspects of environmental politics in Tallahassee is the image of environmental advocates appealing to legislators hat in hand for money to protect more wild lands before the bulldozers advance to make way for more rooftops and pollution and habitat fragmentation.
What’s really disturbing is that some environmental organizations –Florida Sierra is not among them–celebrate the fact that the land protection programs received only a pittance of the amount to which they’re entitled.
When I say pittance, I’m talking about the difference between the $100 million legislators grudgingly appropriated and the $1.1 BILLIION that’s technically available. It’s a difference between dimes and dollars.
I’m talking about the constitutional amendment voters overwhelmingly approved nearly a decade ago to set aside a portion of the documentary taxes collected in connection with real estate transactions, which often involve new development.
The Florida Leglslature’s parsimonious approach to land conservation deserves condemnation, not praise.
This is Florida and as many of you know, legislators and the rest of the so-called leadership in Tallahassee has refused to spend the money. The dispute remains in court.
This continues to be an outrage, but it is typical of what has happened time and again when the voters approved a measure the GOP-controlled Legislature didn’t like. They predictably set in motion any action they could think of to delay or undermine its implementation.
$1.1 billion sounds like a lot of money and it is, but it reflects the other reality of purchasing land or development rights that protect working lands and keep them in private ownership in Florida these days.
That is –as the headlines about housing prices indicate–that real estate is lot more expensive now than it was a couple of decades ago before the Florida Forever program was halted to deal with the economic repercussions of the collapse of the Ponzi-like real estate speculation market.
Additionally, because the Florida Forever program was sidelined for many years, there’s a lot of catching up to do to acquire lands that have already been reviewed and prioritized.
There will be a lot going on in Tallahassee when the Legislature convenes in January as there always is, but restoring land conservation funding cannot wait any longer.
Contact your legislators and tell them it is past time to pay up.