About Me

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He started his career in the family real estate and hotel business in Florida from which his concern for the environment steered him in public life. He has served six Florida governors and two presidents in many positions, including terms as chairman of the Florida Department of Air and Water Pollution Control, and Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior for Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Beyond his government service, he helped found 1000 Friends of Florida and has served as both president and chairman of the board of the organization. He currently or has served on the boards of the Atlantic Salmon Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Geographic Society, Yellowstone National Park, Everglades Foundation and Hope Rural School.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Palm Beach Post - Frank Cerabino: Did you vote to protect Florida’s environment? Who cares?

Posted: 3:33 p.m. Wednesday, March 25, 2015

By Frank Cerabino - Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
If you were one of the 4,238,739 Floridians who voted for an environmental protection measure four months ago, I have news for you.
You don’t matter. Your vote was meaningless.
It’s not supposed be that way, but welcome to Florida.
The vote on Amendment 1, the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, was the biggest vote-getter on Florida’s ballot in November, with a 74.9 percent approval rate.
It was 1.3 million voters more popular than Gov. Rick Scott, who was re-elected on the same ballot.
But Scott, the state’s big business interests and the state legislature had nothing to do with Amendment 1, and in many cases actively opposed it.
Amendment 1 was on the ballot because Florida’s leaders had all but abandoned Florida Forever, a $300 million-per-year state program to purchase environmentally sensitive land.
The program started by Gov. Jeb Bush was nearly wiped out under Scott and state legislators. So environmentalists brought the land preservation issue directly to voters through a ballot referendum.
Florida’s Water and Land Legacy, an environmental group drawing members from the 1000 Friends of Florida, Audubon Florida, Defenders of Wildlife, Everglades Foundation, Florida Conservation Coalition, Florida Land Trust Alliance, Sierra Club and other state environmental groups, collected over 1 million signatures to get the amendment on the ballot.
The ballot question asked voters whether they were in favor of funding the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to “acquire, restore, improve and manage conservation lands including wetlands and forests; fish and wildlife habitat; lands protecting water resources and drinking water sources, including the Everglades, and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams; beaches and shores; outdoor recreation lands; working farms and ranches; and historic or geologic sites.”
The funding source for this wouldn’t be a new tax, but a dedication of 33 percent of the net revenues from an existing excise tax on real estate deed and loan documents, commonly known as doc stamps. These doc stamps are a huge source of state revenue, bringing in about $2 billion a year.
So the voter-approved Amendment 1 made close to $700 million available each year for the acquisition and protection of environmentally sensitive land in the state.
Theoretically. That’s because the buying and protecting is still in the hands of the people who gutted Florida Forever to start with, and have little to no interest in protecting environmentally sensitive land from business development.
And there’s the rub, as Shakespeare would say.
Despite the windfall of money available to preserve this land, Scott put $100 million for Florida Forever in his budget this year — $200 million shy of the traditional level.
But his intent to shortchange the will of the voters is minor compared to the Florida Senate’s budget, which includes just $22 million in environmental land acquisition, with $20 million of that money going to Kissimmee River restoration land and $2 million going to Florida Forever.
So to recap, to restore the previous $300 million-a-year program to buy environmentally sensitive land in Florida, voters approved a measure freeing up an estimated $700 million a year for that purpose.
And despite this vote, the most popular vote-getter on the ballot, Florida lawmakers are doing other things with the money and proposing to spend a measly $2 million on Florida Forever this year.
“There’s no way that anyone could have read the amendment and consider this budget to be adequate,” said Aliki Moncrief, the executive director of Florida’s Water and Land Legacy.
But it gets worse. The Associated Industries of Florida has begun a radio and television campaign to give lawmakers cover by trying to persuade voters that Amendment 1 was not about buying environmentally sensitive land, but about protecting existing water supplies.
“Lawmakers are now deciding how to spend Amendment 1 money,” the ad said. “And special-interest groups want the lion’s share for their pet projects.”
So the 14-year-old Florida Forever program has become a “pet project” and you have become a special-interest group.
All 4,238,739 of you.
You’re a bothersome distraction from the sideline, one that must be ignored by the Floridians who really matter.
So stop getting in the way of the real business of lawmakers, which is finding a way to serve the Associated Industries of Florida and any other business group that might want to, as Joni Mitchell once sang, “pave paradise and put up a parking lot.”