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Politics

Amendment 1 Lawsuit Filed: Legislature Must Defend Its 'Land' Rationale

June 22, 2015 - 6:30pm


Insisting the Legislature has ignored Florida voters, environmental litagator Earthjustice filed suit Monday to compel lawmakers to comply with Amendment 1, Water and Land Legacy, in the state Constitution.

The suit (see attached document below) was filed in Leon County Circuit Court on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida.

“The Legislature did not do what the amendment requires,” said Manly Fuller, president of Florida Wildlife Federation. “Seventy-five percent of Florida voters approved this amendment last November, and they were clear that they want the state to buy conservation land. Instead, the Legislature took the money and used it for things it should not be spent on. This is a slap in the face to Florida voters, and it should not stand.”

Fuller, with Earthjustice attorney David Guest and St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman, spoke with the press in a telephone conference after the suit was filed.

“The constitutional amendment is clear” said Guest. “A third of the tax on real estate deals is to be used to prevent every last inch of Florida land from getting chewed up by development. But most lawmakers are simply not listening. That’s why we have to go to court.”

Asked why the lawsuit was filed ahead of the governor's signature, Guest said the defendant is the Legislature, not the governor. 

He said getting a temporary injunction was a consideration, but to do that, the plaintiffs would have to put up a bond in the tens of millions of dollars.

Guest emphasized that the lawsuit doesn't specify what lands should be bought or where. "We're not saying this is what you have to do, we're saying this is what you can't do," he said.

"We want the courts to identify what's permissible." The amendment is about management of qualifying lands, Guest said, not, for example, about maintenance of state forests, which were never part of the amendment. "There's tens of millions of dollars in salaries for the Department of Forestry (taken from Amendment 1 money)."   

The Water and Land Conservation Amendment requires that, for the next 20 years, 33 percent of the proceeds from real estate documentary-stamp taxes go for land acquisition. For the upcoming year, the share of the real-estate tax is projected to bring in more than $740 million.

“It’s sad that a positive groundswell of popular support for conserving Florida’s best places has come to this,” said Rinaman. “It’s a shame we have to go to court to force legislators to do what their constituents directed.”

Becky Ayech of the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida did not participate in the conference call, but said this in a prepared release: “As a citizen who has worked her whole life to save what’s left of our beautiful state, I was so happy to see Florida voters pass the Water and Land Conservation Amendment last fall by such a huge margin. And now, to see that victory get wrecked by a political bait-and-switch leaves me and so many other people outraged. We need the legal system to set this right.”

In a statement issued Monday night, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli said, "The fact that the Legislature received news of the lawsuit from the media reveals much about the plaintiffs' motivation. The Legislature complied with both the spirit and the letter of the Constitution, and we look forward to defending against this politically motivated lawsuit."

According to the office of Senate President Andy Gardiner, these were the major environmental "issues" funded from the Land Acquisition Trust Fund ($748.2 million) and other revenue sources and included in the budget sent to Gov. Rick Scott on Friday:

  • Springs Protection – $50 million ($43.6 million LATF and $6.4 million GR).
  • Land Management Funding Increase $77.4 million ($1.8m GR, $67.8m LATF and $7.8m from other TF sources).
  • Everglades Restoration $81.8 million ($22.9 million GR; $58.9 million LATF).
  • Beaches $32.1 million ($25 million LATF and $7.1 million GR).  State funds will leverage over $100 million in local and federal funds.
  • Land Acquisition $55 million.  This includes $20 million for the Kissimmee River, $32.4 million for Florida Forever programs, of that $15 million for Rural and Family Lands, and $2.6 million for other land purchases. 
  • Local Parks/FRDAP $6 million. 
  • $93.4 million for the Drinking Water and Wastewater Revolving Loan programs. State funds match federal funds, $1 to $5.  
  • Small County Wastewater grant program $16 million; and
  • Water Projects $73.3 million (requests totaled over $750 million).

 The amendment did not provide new or additional revenue. Existing environmental programs were included with Amendment 1 documentary stamp tax revenue. Approximately 21 percent of current documentary stamp revenue supports environmental programs, and these expenditures were continued, according to the Senate president's office.

The constitutional amendment directed 33 percent to LATF. The General Revenue Fund, the fund that supports Florida's school system, health care, and other state needs was reduced $174 million with implementation of Amendment 1.  
 
Existing environmental programs supported from a documentary total $482.4 million ($473.2 million in the General Government Subcommittee programs and $9.2 million for Historical Resources in the TED subcommittee).  This is for existing debt obligations, almost $200 million, and program base operations, such as Invasive Plant Control, Land Management (support for the State Park system, Forestry in the Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Management Areas and Lake Restoration in the Fish and Wildlife Commission), and Water Resource protection programs in DEP, Springs protection, Everglades, and the establishment of Total Maximum Daily Loads and Minimum Flows and Levels that protect water quality and quantity.  

According to a memorandum dated May 13, 2013, from Florida’s Water & Land Legacy, the amendment sponsors said they “see no legal reason why these dedicated revenues could not be used to fund” these purposes.


Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

Comments

Lawyers, Lawyers, Lawyers, Liars, Liars, Liars,....That's the trouble with the whole damn country ! Phoney, lying, lawyer semantics in cahoots with politicians, Lobbists (usually staffed with 'no longer electable' former politicians, and other "special interest groups") foist "Amendments" onto ballots simply because LEGISLATORS refuse to do their jobs properly for fear of drawing the enmity of one or another voter or special interest group. Honor and ethics no longer exist in the political 'realm'; actual "Statesmen" are a "long dead breed"; America no longer "comes first" with these fools. The Everglades is doomed; face it and just hope that "Morgan & Morgan's" John-boy has enough "spare" cash to lay out another million or two so as to enable "that other craftily-created, but defeated Amendment" (medical marijuana) to ameliorate your 'stress'....."Move along folks,...nothing to see here,..just another costly "train wreck" in the making..."

nancy you should post the brief. It's pretty self explanatory.

n 2006 the legislature placed an amendment on the ballot requiring a 60 percent affirmative vote to approve initiated constitutional amendments. With the passage of the 60-percent majority amendment, Florida became one of only two states in the nation to require a supermajority for constitutional amendments, and the only initiative state with such a requirement. In recent years, state courts have been very aggressive enforcing the single subject rule, striking several measures from the ballot after signatures had already been collected.” Read the brief. I think it's all about the single subject rules. You simply cannot have it both ways.

Substantially more funding should have been allocated to the Rural & Family Lands Protection Program. This program is a win-win for the environment and taxpayers as it combines passive agriculture and conservation on farms and ranches statewide by purchasing agriculture easements. Acquisitions funds will purchase double the amount of land which stays on the local tax rolls and continues to provide economic production for the land owner.

For the record, you are wrong, once an easement is sold to the state under RFLP, the land is thus removed from the tax rolls depriving the local government of desperately needed revenue. Yuou might want to learn the facts before assuming the benefits of the program.

The RFLP is just a way for cronies to rip off the taxpayers. Ag Commisisoner Putnam's family sold right to the family ranch to the state for $20 million dollars. The problem,. the ranch had been appraise commercially a year before for $5.0 million. Where is the win-win?

I agree that the money should NOT be used for salaries (unless perhaps it is to HIRE thousands of new land managers to manage the land we have but let get overrun with exotics), but I certainly wouldn't have voted for it if it only included land acquisition. We need to do something to create resilient water supplies. Looking at alternatives to traditional water supplies will result in restoring flows to springs, aquifers and rivers - which will have a positive impact on our natural resources and quality of life. The language allowed for this and Florida needs to take bold steps to address this crisis.

Has anyone else noticed that Amendment 1 supporters often lead with 75% of the voters voted FOR Amendment 1? Technically, this is true by dividing the number of YES votes (4 million) by the number votes cast (6 million) in the November 2014 election. However, underlying this fact is the reality that we only had a 50% voter turnout (6 million of 12 million) in the November 2014 election, thus, indicating that 36% (Not 75%) of registered voters voted FOR Amendment 1. Taking this math a step further, one might ask, what percent of the those 4 million voting For Amendment 1 voted For clean water and what percent voted to just buy more land to stop development? Considering the ballot title “Water and Land Conservation - Dedicates funds to acquire and restore Florida conservation and recreation lands”, who actually believes that just purchasing more government owned land is the best way to meet our current and future water quality needs? I, for one, do not. We are smarter than that and will continue to be even as we ward off special-interest factions. Our solutions are not “one-size fits all” by using the power of government to buy more land.

You raise some good points and I think the proponents of Amendment 1 could do more to educate the public on the important connection between land acquisition and preserving water resources both in terms of quantity and quality. But make no mistake, the connection exists and is extremely compelling. Just do a search on "how land acquisition supports water" and you will see myriad explanations and examples of how other states and cities are doing this to protect water supply from over pumping and pollution. Acquisition of lands in watershed and recharge areas are of the highest priority for obvious reasons but the state can have an even bigger impact by acquiring other lands such as open space preserves that do not become subject to massive agricultural or commercial development that puts undue strain on limited water resources. Here are a few links that resulted from my search. Click on them if you want specific examples of how amendment 1 land purchases would safeguard our water supply here in Florida, or better yet, do your own search. Thanks for the opportunity to respond. http://floridawaterlandlegacy.org/sections/page/amendment http://sccf.org/files/content/docs/SCCF%20Board%20Resolution%20Support%20EAA%20Land%20Purchase001.pdf

You do realize Andy that when you apply the same numbers to Scott's re-election, less than %25 of Florida's voters re-elected him?

Voters voted for one thing and they took that money and used it for something else. Yet they are worried about fraud and abuse at voting time. We should get them all on misuse of government money and put them all in jail

My understanding is that a bit over $200 million is actually being used for salaries. If that is indeed true it cannot be justified.

So what is new. The Florida Legislature and the Governor have never followed the wishes of the voters. All of the Constitutional Amendments that have made the ballot by petition and have been accepted by the voters, have been ignored by Tallahassee. Let me list a few. Three strikes and you are out. Have you heard of doctors that kill their patients loosing their license? No, and you won't as long as the party in power in our state keep getting funded by the FMA. Noticed our legislature drawing district maps that conform with the Fair District Amendment? No and you won't as long as the State Legislators can think of an excuse not to do so. Now you want them to pay attention to us when we tell them they should be more careful with our water resources? Do you know what the chances are that they will do that? Yes that's right and Slim just left town.

Just another example how morally bankrupt repubs are. And time after time they give more corporate welfare on the backs of lower, middle classes just when do they get a break? Look at the tax cuts for the people and you'll find business gets even more hidden in the cell ph tax break. Obviously Fla want Medical pot and repubs much rather be ideologically than helping people out of pain, spasms. They force themselves between doctors and patients telling doctor what they can say even though science, medicine says differently. They keep the big utility monopoly instead of making 30k clean power jobs and cutting homeowners energy cost by 50%. Yeah some free market there. Forcing Fla to pay $2B more in Medicaid Fla pays for rarely mentioned that ACA would pay for plus the money to pay hospitals we already paid the Feds for. Please tell me where that is actually fiscally conservative? It's just stupid. Yet many of you vote for them, why? Would Jesus? Or would Jesus banish them from the Temple as Moneychangers?

Someone has to keep them honest for not following the voters' will.

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