Legislature sets funding source for Everglades

Posted at 11:21 AM, Mar 12, 2016

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Legislature has sent Gov. Rick Scott a bill setting a dedicated funding source for Everglades restoration programs of up to $200 million a year in money from the 2014 constitutional amendment on conservation land acquisition.

Environmentalists say the bill helps bring the Legislature closer to fulfilling the requirements of the amendment.

The state Senate passed the Legacy Florida Act on the legislative session's last day Friday.

It provides that 25 percent or up to $200 million a year of net proceeds from the amendment go for Everglades projects, another $50 million for projects to restore and preserve Florida springs, and $5 million for Lake Apopka.

The amendment required that one-third of the net revenue from the state's documentary stamp tax should go for buying conservation land.

In a lawsuit, environmental groups have charged that the current state budget, passed last year by the Legislature, violates the amendment by using money from the tax for other purposes, including administrative costs such as salaries, equipment purchases and liability insurance for state agencies.

Bill sponsor Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, said in floor debate the Legacy Florida Act "fully implements Amendment 1 and the intention of the voters."

The Legislature estimates it will spend some $92 million on land acquisition projects in the coming year — still less than the amendment has been estimated to provide, but more than this year.

Spending for the Everglades, springs and Lake Apopka cleanup "are squarely within the purposes of the amendment," Eric Draper of the state Audubon Society said. "It brings the Legislature closer to implementing the amendment."