Governor Rick Scott visited Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Collier County Oct. 23 to announce a proposed $1.7 billion investment in Florida’s environment next year. That’s a $220 million increase over the current budget. Environmental advocates are celebrating the recommendation, but whether state lawmakers will go along with the governor’s proposals remains to be seen.
Scott’s eighth and final budget proposal includes $355 million for Everglades restoration, $55 million for freshwater springs, $100 million for post-Irma beach restoration and a $40 million dollar increase in spending for state parks.
Scott’s budget proposal would also provide $50 million dollars for the state’s main land conservation program Florida Forever. Prior to the great recession, Florida Forever received $300 million a year. In the 2017 state budget, lawmakers did not give the program any money.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection Sec. Noah Valenstein was among those supporting Scott’s announcement. He says that if adopted by the legislature, the spending plan would keep DEP staff very busy.
“We’ll be able to do so much at once with our partners,” said Valenstein. “We’re going to continue working on coastal storage right here on the west coast. A massive investment in the C-43 reservoir while at the same time getting going on Senate Bill 10, an additional storage south of the lake; While at the same time working with our partners to continue working on flow south through the Everglades system as well as restoring the Herbert Hoover Dike,”
Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg also thanked the governor for his environmental budget proposal. “This is the type of robust funding that the Everglades needs and the White House and the Congress need to step up in a big way to match the dollars that the Governor has put forward,” said Eikenberg. “If that’s the case out of Washington, these projects will be finished sooner than later and that’s desperately needed.”
Audubon Florida Executive Director Eric Draper expressed optimism as well, saying that state lawmakers have been holding back on environmental spending. “This gives us a running start,” said Draper. “The money is in the budget. It’s just the legislature needs to step up and spend it on these urgent priorities. We just need to continue that money coming for Everglades and springs and then we need to add in land conservation and that’s the trifecta.”
Gov. Scott says he is confident lawmakers can find the money to fund his environmental proposals if they make them a priority.
“We have dramatically increased our revenues in the state. We’re walking into budget surpluses. We have the money if you look at the budget. In my budget, when it’ll come out, we’ll still have reserves. So we have the money to do this.”
However, recent projections from the state’s chief economist Amy Baker paint a darker picture. She recently told Senate budget drafters that a projected budget surplus of just $50 million has already been wiped out by Hurricane Irma recovery costs and that lawmakers should expect to be working with a budget shortfall when they convene the 2018 legislative session in January.