Could the Environmentalists Come Up With a Crazier Idea?
Around the State
Just when you think Florida environmentalists can't get any further out in left field, they go and drop back against the wall. I'm talking about their latest plan to budget their causes by ballot initiative.
Listen to this.
A coalition of environmental groups thinks it's a good idea to fund Everglades restoration and other environmental programs with a $10 billion marker locked into the state Constitution for the next 20 years. And, yes, that's billion with a "b."
Right now a whole slew of them have a petition drive going to get the measure on the ballot. It's called the Florida Water and Land Legacy Campaign.
What the amendment would require is that for the next two decades, 33 percent of all doc stamp revenue be earmarked for environmental programs. The proposal would go into effect July 1, 2015, and collections would not be deposited into general revenue, but go directly into the state's Land Acquisition Trust Fund.
Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon of Florida, told the News Service of Florida, "We've been left with no options." The Legislature just hasn't been lashing out $300 million a year to buy more land, as it did before the economy turned sour.
Wait a minute here. Can we please look at this in common-sense terms?
This isn't the way government is supposed to work.
Florida has a budget process. Good times or bad, the state anticipates its revenue, assesses its shortfall and shortcomings from the previous year, and through legislative committees and subcommittees, priorities for spending take shape. Those who believe they belong higher on the priority list do their homework, get off their backsides and get to Tallahassee to push their case.
Force-feeding the Florida Constitution with a single priority among dozens -- among hundreds, no doubt -- is the consummate unbalancing act. It demeans the Constitution and shortchanges the people of Florida.
Joe Negron, R-Stuart, rumored to be the Senate's next appropriations chairman, called the environmentalists' petition drive "the wrong way for government to work."
Negron told Sunshine State News, "A constitution grants authority to the government and sets out how it will operate, it isn't there to be used as a budgeting tool. The last time we did something like this petition drive calls for was when we put the classroom-size amendment in the Constitution and made it the law of the land and ended up building schools we didn't need.
"To be honest, if we hadn't put the class-size amendment in the Constitution, there might have been more money for land buys and environmental programs," he said.
Do land and conservation efforts present a more urgent need than, say, children's issues, or the needs of citizens with disabilities, or the looming demand of Medicaid in the next decade, which is threatening to swallow up more of the state's prosperity.
What happens during those 20 years of $500 million payouts each, when truly pressing needs arise? Emergency expenditures, for instance? Where do we find the money to pay for our constitutional obligation? Do we enlarge our commitment to gaming? Raise the rate of doc stamps?
No state does a better job of using its constitution as a tree to build must-have nests than California. And look how it worked out for those folks. California’s budget deficit has swelled to a projected $16 billion — much larger than had been predicted just a few months ago — and will force severe cuts to schools and public safety if, as Gov. Jerry Brown said Saturday, voters fail to approve tax increases in November.
I thought one of the commenters on Wednesday's story "Environmental Groups Want Guaranteed $10 Billion Expenditure in State Constitution," said it best in summing up the Florida Water and Land Legacy Campaign:
"To lock in roughly 1 percent of the state budget for a non-emergency item for 20 years without the ability of the Legislature to control it would be a great error. How much conservation land is enough? The GSA is studying excess federal holdings with the intent of reducing them.
"In Jacksonville, roughly 17 percent of the surface area, including more than half of the ocean frontage, is government-owned, federal, state and local. Jacksonville does not have the money to effectively use the part it owns and is also studying disposal of some.
"I strongly oppose it."
Thank you, Henry Rogers, ACL, CCIM.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.