In November, Gov. Scott issued several press releases regarding his environmental funding proposal for the 2018-2019 Florida budget. He is proposing more than $1.7 billion funding for the Florida Department of Environmental Protections, a more than $220 million increase over the current year.
The proposed funding will include:
• An investment of $55 million for Florida springs;
• An investment of $100 million for Florida’s beaches;
• $355 million for Everglades restoration;
• $50 million for Florida’s state parks; and
• $50 Million for Florida Forever to help preserve and protect our natural lands
Governor Scott said, “People from across the world come to Florida because of our state’s beautiful natural treasures. Over the past seven years, we have made historic strides to protect Florida’s lands, invest record funding in the Everglades and Florida springs, and preserve our beloved beaches. To make sure our state remains beautiful for generations to come, I am proud to announce today that my recommended budget will include $1.7 billion to protect and preserve Florida’s environment.”
Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida, said, “Audubon Florida is excited about Governor Scott’s environmental budget requests for this upcoming session. This year’s request includes funding for Florida’s premier land conservation program, Florida Forever. The Governor’s budget recommendation also includes funding for Florida’s iconic springs and our award-winning state parks. These budget recommendations put additional focus on land conservation, parks, springs and everglades and estuary recovery-Audubon’s top priorities for protecting water and wildlife.”
Temperince Morgan, executive director of The Nature Conservancy in Florida, said, “Governor Scott’s proposed budget will support critical restoration and protection projects for some of Florida’s most precious resources, including springs and our award-winning state parks.”
But not everyone is happy with the amount of spending, particularly the proposed expenditure for the Florida Forever program.
In 2014, 75% of Florida voters voted to use their tax money to preserve the state’s most valuable natural lands through a program called Florida Forever. The constitutional amendment required setting aside a portion of documentary stamp taxes for land and water conservation. In the past, Florida Forever offered up to $300 million annually for land preservation but it had been scaled back in recent years. The state is also facing a lawsuit from environmental groups because some of the proceeds of Amendment 1 have been used for salaries and other routine expenses.
State Senator Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, has filed a bill for the 2018 session to increase Florida Forever spending by $100 million.
Former U.S. Senator and Florida Governor Bob Graham is not overwhelmed by the proposal, in particular Scott’s proposal to spend $50 million on the Florida Forever preservation program saying it doesn’t meet the needs of the program.
“We have to decide the kind of Florida we want to leave behind for future generations. The only way to leave behind a better Florida is to make significant investments to conserve Florida’s most critical natural and working landscapes now.”
Graham is chairman of the Florida Conservation Coalition. They believe that $300 million a year should go into statewide conservation programs including the Florida Forever priority list, the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program and the Florida Communities Trust Program.