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Missy Layfield - Editor

What Part of Yes Don’t They Understand

Last November 75% of Florida voters sent a message to the Florida Legislature: We want designated funds used for land and water conservation. It isn’t often that such a large number of voters are so clear on an issue.

Fort Myers Beach voters were even more insistent, with over 82% of voters voting yes on Amendment 1.

Unfortunately, the Florida Legislature hasn’t heard the message.

Amendment 1 called for 33% of documentary stamp taxes to be used to acquire and restore Florida conservation and recreation lands for the next 20 years.

The first thing the Legislature did was pull funding for affordable housing, also funded by the documentary stamp fees. They could have adjusted the amount of stamp fees going into the general fund, but apparently needed to make a statement about the effects of Amendment 1. "See what you foolish people made us do?” Once their point was made, they magically found the funding to restore the full amount that the affordable housing trust fund would have received before Amendment 1 before passing the bill along. Seems childish, doesn’t it?

Another tack they’re trying is to use Amendment 1 funding to cover existing administration costs for the Department of Environmental Protection or pay for park ranger salaries rather than invest in new land and water projects.

See, if they use Amendment 1 funds for those things, then they can take the money that would have paid for the DEP and rangers and use it for something else. Maybe even something that will make a campaign donor happy and willing to donate more money next campaign cycle.

Senator Alan Hays, Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government, thinks that there is already enough land held in conservation in Florida. Apparently Senator Hays believes his opinion is more important than the 4.2 million voters who voted Yes on Amendment 1 last November. Those 4.2 million said very clearly that they want that money used for land and water conservation. Not park ranger salaries. Not DEP paperclips.

Why is this so hard to understand?

The Legislature is now proposing budgets that circumvent Amendment 1. They did it with the Fair Districts amendments, why would we expect anything different for this one?

For all intents and purposes, Big Sugar and Big Agriculture own the Florida Legislature. They donate heavily to campaigns. They sponsor vacation trips, err, I mean fact-finding trips, for state officials and legislative representatives. They pay lobbyists who wine and dine legislators and staff whispering in their ears what is "best” for Florida business. Who do you think they listen to?

Not us - the 75% of voters that approved Amendment 1 - that’s for sure.

Two years ago, we suffered from horrible pollution sent down the Caloosahatchee River from Lake Okeechobee during a record wet season. Both east and west coast residents and businesses called for help along with local government. That water hurt our community. Hurt our businesses. Hurt the employees of those businesses. The Florida Senate finally felt enough pressure that they put together a special committee that called for both short and long term solutions, most of them water storage related.

Now it’s 2015 and water quality is far from the minds of our representatives. In the first week of the session the Florida House passed the HB 7003 Water Bill that is amazing in its bold blindness to water quality. HB 7003 removes water quality requirements at Lake O structures. The elimination of water quality standards and treatment for nitrogen, a major pollutant in the lake and downstream, will send 6,000 tons of nitrogen into the lake, down the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie rivers and into our estuaries. Under this misguided bill, phosphorus, another major pollutant, will be controlled only via the Basin Management Action Plan (BMAP). The BMAP covers only 40% of the Lake O watershed and relies on VOLUNTARY Best Management Practices.

Oh yeah, that will work. Does this sound like anyone in Tallahassee cares one iota about our water quality? They’ve funded some water storage and it’s now back to business as usual, i.e. whatever Big Sugar and Big Ag want.

Remember the US Sugar land south of Lake O that they wanted to sell to the state just a few short years ago? The amount of land available has dwindled, leaving a chunk south of the lake that would allow water to once more flow into the Everglades. But nobody in Tallahassee wants to pull the trigger before the October deadline, even though they have the money available via Amendment 1. Wonder why that is?

They’re passing water bills that remove water quality standards and ignoring the people’s will to devote millions to land and water conservation. They have the option and the money to finally do something for the Everglades and address Lake O issues, yet all they offer is excuses.

Why do we keep re-electing them?

Missy Layfield