It’s time for some honesty about the goal of the true purpose of the 2017 so-called Heartland Headwaters Protection and Sustainability Act.
Action in the Florida Senate this week appropriated $20 million from the fund that is supposed to pay for conservation land purchases to implement the act, but it was clear from the staff analysis that this is not an environmental appropriation, but a subsidy to the development lobby to help to finance water supply projects to continue business as usual.
Sierra Club of Florida opposed the bill., which is sponsored by Sen. Danny Burgess, a member of the Polk legislative delegation. The House companion bill is sponsored by Rep. Melony Bell, another Polk legislator.
The money could be used to help to finance the Polk County Regional Water Cooperative’s planned Lower Floridan Aquifer wells at the edge of the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern or water storage projects along the Upper Peace River Basin. The legislation is so vague it could allow a multitude of projects that have nothing to do with land conservation.
The proper spending of the land conservation funding is still the subject of litigation, though you would not know this from reading the bill’s staff analysis.
The latest court ruling oddly ruled that the complaints by environmentalists are irrelevant because the Legislature already misspent the first potential appropriation of the money in the year after the authorizing constitutional amendment passed. That ignores an earlier court decision that correctly ruled that there isn’t much anyone can do about past budget decisions. Instead, the focus should be on future misappropriations.
That analysis ignores the fact that the 2014 constitutional amendment approved overwhelmingly by Florida voters called for appropriating the money annually through 2035.
This bill and this week’s votes doesn’t protect anything except the interests of the development community and is another example of how the Florida Legislature continues to thumb its nose at the public.