Over the last three years, Florida Forever has not been the titan of land preservation it once was. The conservation program has seen significant cutbacks in funding, and has lost its effectiveness in continuing to protect the state’s vast landscape. But, a bill in the Florida Senate reestablishes Florida Forever as the model of land preservation it once was.
In 2014, nearly 75 percent of Florida voters helped pass amendment 1. The amendment was designed to steer a portion of taxes from sold real estate to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. Many hoped this would lead to more funding for Conservation Programs like Florida Forever, which had already protected more than 2.4 million acres of land.
But, the opposite ended up happening. As Aliki Moncrief, Executive Director of Florida Conservation Voters, explains.
“When you look at the first three years of the legislative budgets that came out after amendment one passed. When you look at how the legislature spent the money. At least third, if not more, of how they spent the money really was not contemplated by the amendment’s language,” Moncrief says.
In 2015, the Land Acquisition Trust Fund collected more than $740 million. Lawmakers spent $88 million on conservation efforts. In the 2016-2017 fiscal year, only $15 million dollars went to Florida Forever. A huge drop off from the $300 million annual budget the conservation program used to receive at its peak.
Senator Rob Bradley’s (R-Fleming Island) Senate Bill 370 requires the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to replenish Florida Forever with $100 million dollars annually, giving Floridians what they voted for three years ago.
“[SB 370] respects the voters in 2014 when they passed Amendment 1, when they said to us that we need to do what we’re doing here today. We need to focus on preserving those special parts of the State for all time. And, we need to pay particular close attention to it, and we need to use the Land Acquisition Trust Fund for that purpose,” Bradley says.
Bradley says a lot of funding could have gone to Florida Forever had the Land Acquisition Trust Fund cut back on administrative and technical funding. He says its legal for lawmakers to spend the money as they see fit, but he doesn’t agree with what’s been done in the past. That is why the bill strips LATF of being used for any administrative and technical funding.
“Please understand and know that is quite proper, and should be the case that LATF funds should be used for maintenance of the land. And, that will be the case today, for the budget we passed last year that we’re living under this year, and that will be the case if this becomes law next year and for now on,” Bradley says.
The bill passed unanimously in the Senate.