The House and Senate have passed their respective budgets for 2016-17 and now they will begin the negotiation process. The House passed a $79.98 billion budget and the Senate passed a $80.97 billion budget, $1 billion more than the House budget. There are many differences that must be resolved before a final budget agreement is reached. One issue to be negotiated will be how Amendment 1 funding will be allocated. Amendment 1 which passed in 2014 requires 1/3 of the Documentary Stamp tax revenue be used for the acquisition and maintenance of land and water. Amendment 1 would provide $823.8 million for water and land conservation in the coming fiscal year.
With almost 1/3 of Florida held in conservation, we oppose any more purchase of land and instead the legislature should allocate funding for cleanup and restoration of currently owned property. There is no legitimate justification to purchase new land at this time. In fact, the Florida legislature should continue to pursue the sale of surplus land. Surplus land is a term used for government owned conservation land that no longer serves a critical environmental need.
The state currently has difficulty maintaining and protecting the conservation land it already owns. Before any additional properties are purchased for conservation purposes, existing waterways, estuaries, rivers and other water bodies presently endangered should be restored. Government owns land under several agencies which are not managed as they should be, often left as wilderness, they become a fire hazard, vulnerable to invasive plants, and over population of wild animals.
Currently, federal, state and local government own 9.9 million acres of conservation land in Florida. The total land area of Florida is 34,721,280 acres, meaning that almost one third of Florida is owned by some level of government for conservation purposes.
More government land means more government employees to oversee that land, more materials and more equipment to maintain that land which will increase our current budget.
Purchasing conservation land takes property off of the property tax rolls and reduces local government revenue. This will hinder budgeting for many counties. These county governments are not going to trim their budgets but raise taxes and fees on the taxpayers.
One tool the Florida Legislature can utilize to buy more land is bonding through the Florida Forever trust fund. Bonding simply allows the state to buy much more land by pledging Amendment 1 funds to pay the debt service, which adds to the state debt. Florida Forever is funded through the sale of bonds and debt service on the bonds is then paid by revenue generated from Documentary Stamps which results from real estate transactions and land sales.
The real estate collapse of 2008 brought dramatic reduction in documentary tax revenue and with the economy still on shaky ground, it would be irresponsible to purchase property through bonding.
Purchasing property through bonding increases state debt and annual debt service payments. Any downturns in the real estate market could expose citizens to higher taxes and fees to meet any revenue shortfall. The state purchasing more land also creates higher maintenance costs which will increase our current budget.
Call Legislative leadership and tell them not to fund Florida Forever. With over 10 million acres already held in conservation, we need to focus on clean-up and restoration. Florida Forever bonding will only put us in more debt and the annual debt service will increase the budget.
Speaker of the House Steve Crisafulli
(850) 717-5051 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Representative Richard Corcoran- House Appropriations Chairman
(850) 717-5037 / email@example.com
Senate President Andy Gardiner
(850) 487-5013 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Florida Senator Tom Lee-Senate Appropriations Chairman
(850) 487-5024 / email@example.com