Don Gaetz: Amendment Shifts Too Much Land to State Control

By: Jim Saunders News Service of Florida | Posted: January 27, 2014 3:55 AM
Don Gaetz

Don Gaetz

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.

"The government already owns a large percentage of our state," Gaetz's spokeswoman Katie Betta said in an email. "President Gaetz does not believe in obligating the taxpayers of Florida to arbitrarily give the government control over more land."

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

"The amendment is not about a specific piece of land, or a particular transaction; rather, he believes the amendment is based on a core belief that more land of some kind somewhere needs to be controlled by the government and not private landholders," Betta added.

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.

"Having a source of clean drinking water, ensuring that the quality of our rivers, lakes and streams is good, and protecting our beaches, is something that is important enough that it shouldn't be subject to whatever political winds are blowing in Tallahassee," Abberger said.

Abberger agreed that the amendment could be helped in reaching the required 60 percent approval from voters by the high-profile attention that state lawmakers have started to give to water problems during the past year. That attention has focused on issues such as releases of polluted water out of Lake Okeechobee, declining conditions of many of the state's natural springs and Florida's federal lawsuit against Georgia over a shortage of fresh water flowing into Apalachicola Bay.

"I think those crises have raised awareness of Florida voters of protecting our waters," Abberger said.

The amendment has been criticized by some legislators and business groups for mandating how lawmakers craft part of the budget.

"Imagine, if every group that wasn't satisfied with the amount of funding their special program got during the recession decided to do a constitutional amendment and mandate a certain amount of spending, how impossible it would be to balance our state budget?" said David Hart, Florida Chamber of Commerce executive vice president of governmental affairs and political operations.

The chamber is expected to take a formal position on the amendment at an upcoming board meeting, Hart added.

"What our board historically has been concerned about is that we don't follow the path of California," he continued, "where so many mandates have been put in their Constitution that their legislature is incapable of balancing the budget anymore."

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 controversial 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.


Tags: News, Politics

Comments (12)

1:29AM FEB 6TH 2014

Water and Land Conservation – Dedicates Funds to Acquire and Restore Florida Conservation and Recreation Lands


The amendment requires that 33% of net revenue from the excise tax on documents be deposited in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund for twenty years, to be used for the purposes specified in the amendment. Based on information provided at public workshops and information collected through staff research, the Financial Impact Estimating Conference expects that the proposed amendment will have the following financial effects:

 This amendment does not increase or decrease state revenues. Neither the rates nor bases of the excise tax on documents (the tax) are changed.

 The amount of state revenue restricted to the purposes specified in the amendment is estimated to be $648 million in Fiscal Year 2015-16 and grows to $1.268 billion by Fiscal Year 2034-35, the final year of the distribution requirement. These estimates reflect 33% of the official Revenue Estimating Conference forecast for the excise tax on documents through Fiscal Year 2022-23, after the Department of Revenue’s costs of collection and enforcement have been deducted from total tax collections. Thereafter, an annual growth rate of 3.1% is applied, which is consistent with the combined estimated growth of population and inflation.

 Whether the amendment results in any additional state expenditures depends upon future legislative actions and cannot be determined. Under current law, the tax proceeds are distributed to various trust funds and the General Revenue Fund for various purposes, including payment of debt service on environmental bonds. The amendment changes the current distributions by requiring that 33% of net revenue from the excise tax on documents be deposited in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF) for the purposes specified in the amendment. Because the tax proceeds are currently fully committed, this requirement may result in reductions to existing programs currently funded by the tax, or in the replacement of those dollars with other state funds at a loss to other programs; however, these outcomes are not certain. Subsequent legislative action is required to adjust distributions of the tax. Some or all of the current expenditures for the purposes specified in the amendment may be shifted to the LATF. Depending on the extent to which this shift occurs, total expenditures for the amendment’s stated purposes might not increase, and, at the same time, losses to other programs might not occur. Alternatively, in any given year, 33% of the tax revenues may be more than the Legislature would choose to spend on the purposes specified in the amendment, resulting in a greater allocation of funds for the specified purposes. Because future legislative actions are unknown, the impact on state expenditures cannot be determined.

 The impact on local government revenues, if any, cannot be determined because it is unknown whether the state will purchase more lands than it otherwise would have or what effect those additional purchases would have on ad valorem tax revenues.

 No additional local government costs are expected.

 In developing this statement, the Conference assumes that the amendment will be on the 2014 General
Election ballot."
7:06PM JAN 28TH 2014
The monies would NOT just go to land purchases; they would go also to land MANAGEMENT and WATER QUALITY restoration. If Reps are so worried about the budget, why does Scott constantly propose tax cuts esp. for businesses and developers? Florida ranks in the BOTTOM five of most taxed States. And, though we are one of the highest paying States in Fed taxes, we are one of the lowest in receiving Fed dollars back because of the mantra of not accepting federal "aid", unless of course, it is asked for to restore mega mansions on hurricane/tide ravaged barrier islands or, homes built in obvious floodplains. But, def not for Medicaid or anything to help the poor, sick, elderly or children. Seems protecting our water resources would be a small price to pay. If they continue to be destroyed, the real cost will be staggering!
5:15PM JAN 28TH 2014
This funding is designed to provide for acquisitions of environmentally sensitive lands, as well as MANAGEMENT of EXISTING state lands. As long as we can keep this far away from politicians, it will be good for Florida. (past land asquisition programs seemed to line the pockets of political allies)
Natural resource management professionals are our best hope for protecting these valuable lands, not politicians. Keeping these lands protected and sustainable will draw more tourists and higher incomes to Florida in lieu of property taxes.
10:52AM JAN 28TH 2014
Several years ago, about 17% of Duval County was in government hands, including more than half of the ocean front. How much is enough? Water is a serious problem, but the legislature should make timely decisions about protecting it, rather than being forced to buy land when it is not a good time to do so. Please vote against the amendment.
12:01PM JAN 28TH 2014
That worked once upon a time . . . when legislators didn't believe science was evil . . . and governors didn't try to kill Florida Forever or cut water management district and DEP scientists to make a claim about cutting your property taxes by $10 or $20 a year, before discovering we subsequently have worked ourselves into a springs and water quality crisis thanks to lax Scott administration enforcement of regulations and over-pumping . . . .

Yeah, we'll trust this legislature and Governor to protect our irretrievable natural resources when they tell us evolution is real and the seas are rising at an increasing rate and threatened our future (i.e. those are both reality - they're based on actual science, not GOP truthiness) . . . . and instead, you want us to trust such GOP politicians to protect our future when they believe sustainability (the word, even when applied to our water resources) is an evil plot to have the UN take over the sovereignty of Florida and the U.S.!? . . . .

Pathetic . . . .
11:54PM JAN 27TH 2014
Fire Scott and these idiots....Do you drink water?? Do your kids drink water??Or do you prefer cancer??VOTE YES ON 1!!
3:10PM JAN 27TH 2014
Its a waste of money. The state cannot manage the land it currently owns. The land goes fallow, is managed poorly by a bunch of low rent state agency bureaucrats who wouldn't even get a job as a field hand working for a private landowner. Invasive species come in and totally invade the land. Wild Hogs run rampant and destroy habitats of native plants and animals. Timber is not managed well at all. The state makes essentially no money on the land it owns, while private landowners make money on timber, hardwoods, hunting and fishing leases, farming, pinestraw.

Babcock Ranch is the perfect example of land the state purchased, then turned it to garbage.

If the government cannot manage this land, what makes anyone think it should get more?
6:09PM JAN 27TH 2014
Clearly you're clueless, especially about the particulars of Babcock Ranch . . . . since I doubt you've ever been on the Babcock site, except maybe by trespassing, let's have a dialogue about the site's merits (or reasons why you think it's been turned into garbage by state bureaucrats) . . . . . as someone who HAS been on the site, and who WAS involved with its approval, let's have at the specifics of your "facts" . . . . or is this, as I suspect, just your clueless truthiness and more politics of the "Big Lie" . . . .

Pathetic . . . .
3:35PM JAN 27TH 2014
Your Republican government agreed that Babcock Ranch Preserve would be manged by the developer until 2016 so if there are any issues that are legitimate it would seem they fall first on the developer and then on the terms of the agreement.
My observation is that the career State of Florida employees and WMD employees are and were, the were because far too many have been culled and threatened, dedicated to managing Florida's natural assets well. Then the pogrom of Scott, Gaetz and Weatherford ensued after the preliminaries of legislative malfeasance as the result of previous Republican legislative malfeasance.
11:22AM JAN 27TH 2014
Not only would this cause budget problems EVERY single year for our State legislature, it will take more lands off the tax rolls, so the revenue that is currently being generated from the private landowners will disappear. Also, the State does a terrible job of "managing" the conservation lands that they have now... they don't need more to let sit idle.
1:19PM JAN 27TH 2014
More than a little disingenuous . . . similar arguments were made about the constitutional amendment on Environmentally Endangered Lands back in 1972 . . . .

And, of course, it's not like Florida Forever was funded at $300 million for many years, nor that Florida's $65 billion annual tourism industry is linked to the use and enjoyment of those same state natural resources that are being protected . . . . . of course not . . . . . so I think we'll just put this argument in the category of constituting a red herring . . . .

Pathetic . . . .
8:49AM JAN 27TH 2014
Translation, it would cut Don Gaetz, his son Matt Gaetz and their many synchophants out of a possibillity for political and financial largeese. The sooner the Republicans are the minority the better.

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