Lawmakers recently settled on a $77 billion budget this year, but with very little money set aside for the state’s land conservation program. Environmentalists said it’s a perfect example of why a constitutional amendment ensuring funding each year is needed.
Water quality issues in estuaries east and west of Lake Okeechobee got a lot of attention this year. That’s why state lawmakers set aside millions to fund restoration projects in the Everglades and the Kissimmee River. But, environmental groups warned lawmakers didn’t spend nearly enough on the state’s land and water conservation program called Florida Forever.
For decades, lawmakers set aside about $300 million a year for the program, but that budget was slashed to zero during the recession.
Laurie Macdonald with the Defenders of Wildlife said now that the state’s economy is rebounding and there’s a budget surplus, lawmakers should be funding land and water conservation for the entire state.
Macdonald said it is disappointing that lawmakers only set aside $17 million for Florida Forever—$5 million of which went to deals with private landowners.
“The legislature has not kept pace in funding the Florida Forever program with the needs,” she said. “Development is on the rise again throughout Florida, but our protection of conservation areas throughout the state is not being funded commensurate with the need.”
Macdonald also said this year’s budget is a good example of why a proposed constitutional amendment is needed. This year, Floridians will vote on a ballot measure that will ensure more funding every year for Florida Forever.
The money will come from a real estate tax that already exists. The amendment needs 60 percent of the vote to pass.