- 2014 - January - 27th -

Gaetz: Amendment shifts too much land to state control

By Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida

Florida voters will get to decide in November if funding for land conservation should be cemented into the state Constitution.

But don’t expect top lawmakers to support the proposed constitutional amendment, which will appear as Amendment No. 1 on the Nov. 4 ballot after getting final approval this week from the Florida Department of State.

Asked if he would support the amendment, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said in an email Friday that “Legislating via constitutional amendments doesn’t work in California and it won’t work here!”

Meanwhile, Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, contends the amendment will shift too much land into state control.

Gaetz favors the Legislature being able to look at each transaction on its own rather than setting up “an eternal government land acquisition program,” Gaetz’ spokeswoman Katie Betta said.

The proposed amendment, backed by a group called “Florida’s Water and Land Legacy, Inc.,” seeks to set aside 33 percent of the state’s documentary stamp tax revenues --- fees paid when real estate is sold --- for 20 years to acquire conservation and recreation lands, manage existing lands, protect lands that are critical for water supply and restore degraded natural systems.

The proposal could generate $10 billion over its life, the group said.

Will Abberger, the campaign chairman for Florida’s Water and Land Legacy Inc., said the intent of the amendment is to provide a dedicated and sustainable source of money to protect Florida’s water resources.

The amendment has been criticized by some legislators and business groups.

The idea for the amendment was spawned as funding diminished for the Florida Forever program. Florida Forever, which uses bonds backed with revenue from the documentary stamps, authorizes lawmakers to spend up to $300 million a year for preservation.

During the 2012 session, state lawmakers set aside $20 million for land conservation and established a surplus land-sale program within the state Department of Environmental Protection. The program was promoted as potentially generating up to $50 million. 

The final list of properties is expected to be released within a couple of weeks, but the revenue is not expected to reach the $50 million mark.

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