Monday, March 30, 2015

Florida voters: your state legislators don't give a f$%k, what you want … by gimleteye

It takes patience and perspective to understand just how little Florida legislators care about voters. Consider: newspaper editorial boards across the state of Florida are up-in-arms that the state legislature, halfway through its session, is utterly ignoring the will of the people expressed through Amendment 1, to purchase environmentally sensitive lands like those under option from US Sugar; some 46,000 acres in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

The Miami-Dade delegation is blank-faced. Silent. Immune to pressure. Why? Because voters keep returning them to office, one election cycle after another, until they graduate to another chamber of the legislature thanks to term limits or find comfortable employment as part of the lobbying class.

75 percent of voters approved Amendment 1, yet the state legislature and Gov. Rick Scott are giving voters the finger.

Voters should understand Florida's political dynamic, and how poorly their interests are represented by "government-designed-to-fail". Here are two other examples.

The first is a local one. The dredging at the Port of Miami to accommodate (fingers crossed) the deep port needs of the new capacity of the Panama Canal. Environmentalists sued to make certain that the US Army Corps of Engineers, supervising the project requested by Miami-Dade County, would not destroy fragile reefs nearby. An agreement was reached. The project commenced and the agreement was violated. Where are the voters, demanding that legislators punish punish the Corps, its contractors, and the County?

That's a small example. Here's a much bigger one.

When Gov. Rick Scott came to office in 2010, one of his first acts was to kill the Florida Department of Community Affairs and a regulatory system that attempted to channel Florida's growth to benefit communities and the environment, through the planning of major infrastructure and development schemes.

Growth management had been the result of decades of bipartisan consensus, seeking to preserve at least parts of the quality of life and natural heritage that defined Florida once upon a time. Killing off growth management in Florida was strictly a partisan affair. The cause had been embraced by GOP operatives and leaders stretching back to the Jeb Bush terms as governor, in order to speed wealth creation for Big Ag, big real estate developers and construction/materials suppliers.

It has taken a while for the full consequences to be felt, and those consequences are predictable: just take a look at the plan to build the largest mega-mall in the United States, in northwest Miami-Dade County; a scheme that seemed to hatch from thin air a few weeks ago, even to county commissioners on the dais.

The point is that legislators and Gov. Scott just don't give a f@#k what you want. More sprawl in historic Everglades? Check. More highways into Miami-Dade's remaining agricultural land? Check. The privatization of water rights in Florida to benefit Big Sugar? (That one -- private corporations selling water to you, that you already own -- , is on the way.)

They get away with it because they can: because voters do not hold them accountable at the polls.

As a result, there has never been a greater distance between Florida's people and the government than there is today. That's what Florida voters get for electing candidates who only seem to represent their interests. That's also what Florida voters get, for not voting at all.

Dockery: Why is it so hard for legislators to listen to voters?
By Paula Dockery
Thursday, March 26, 2015
Tampa Bay Times

We're nearly halfway through the legislative session and the Florida House and Senate are releasing their respective budget plans. Many important budget issues are still in flux.

One issue that shouldn't still be in flux is funding for the Land and Water Conservation Amendment, which passed in November with 75 percent of the vote. Amendment 1 received more votes than any other item on the ballot — by far. One could call it a mandate.

The amendment language was clear, and voters understood what they were voting for.
The title of the amendment was crystal clear:

"Water and Land Conservation — Dedicates funds to acquire and restore Florida conservation and recreation lands."

Sounds a lot like Florida Forever.

It requires that one-third of an existing revenue source — the documentary stamp tax — annually be placed in a trust fund and used for conservation and recreation land acquisition, restoration and management. Again, sounds a lot like Florida Forever.

A brief history:

Recognizing the importance of protecting and preserving our natural resources, the Florida Legislature passed two different land acquisition and restoration programs, Preservation 2000 and its successor, Florida Forever. For its 10-year duration, Preservation 2000 was fully funded. Florida Forever was fully funded at $300 million a year for its first nine years.

In 2009, Florida Forever received no funding due to the budget crisis. Supporters of the preservation program understood that the recession necessitated taking a year off. But the following year only $19 million of the $300 million was funded, followed by nothing in 2011 and 2012, $10 million in 2013 and $17 million in 2014.

How did such a popular program that goes to the very heart of what makes Florida special get on the chopping block and never regain its intended level of funding?

Frustrated citizens took matters into their own hands to help preserve the quality of life for Floridians and our nature-based tourism. The impetus for Amendment 1 was to restore funding for Florida Forever and Everglades restoration to protect and preserve our natural habitats and water resources.

So now we're waiting for the Legislature to follow the state Constitution and implement the will of the voters.

It's not looking good.

In a deliberate snub to voters, the House and Senate released drastically different and equally offensive funding plans.

The Senate plan puts aside a paltry $2 million for Florida Forever. Two million? Are you kidding me? After voters passed the amendment with 75 percent of the vote?

How insulting! Voters should be outraged.

To put it in perspective:

The total 2015 budget is expected to be somewhere between $77 billion and $80 billion. Documentary stamp revenues are estimated to be $2.16 billion.

One-third of the total doc stamp revenue required for Amendment 1 equates to $720 million. That represents less than 1 percent of the total budget.

So it was reasonable to expect that Florida Forever would be fully funded at $300 million and funding for Everglades restoration could be $50 million to $100 million.

That would leave more than $300 million to boost conservation and recreation land management, protect our springs, restore natural systems, enhance public access to conservation lands and pay debt service on conservation bonds issued.

Apparently that is only reasonable here in the real world, not in the Tallahassee bubble. When a large pot of money appears, there's a feeding frenzy for a piece of the action. And ironically, those who voted against the ballot initiative are among the first ones with their hands out.

It's amazing how creatively they craft their projects to try to fit the parameters for the Land and Water Conservation dollars. But it's like putting a square peg in a round hole — it just doesn't fit.

Unfortunately, legislators seem to be accommodating their wishes while ignoring the voters.

Legislators are also playing shell games by including items such as septic tanks, wastewater treatment plants and state agency operations that have been traditionally been funded with other revenue sources.

The chairman of the Senate committee that determined this level of funding believes Florida owns enough land. While that's an interesting — albeit misinformed — personal opinion, it's also a moot point since the Constitution now requires land acquisition.

The coalition that jumped through all the hoops to get the amendment on the ballot and passed now has to beg the legislators who ignored their pleas before to honor them now.

The difference is they now have 4,230,858 voters standing with them.

There's still a long way to go in the budget process. Let's hope that means something when the full House and Senate vote on the final budget.

Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland. She can be reached at

Sweet deal
03/28/2015 3:00 PM 03/27/2015 3:49 PM

Florida lawmakers may be on the verge of making a mistake of historic proportions by letting a splendid opportunity to aid Everglades restoration and clean up waters east and west of Lake Okeechobee slip through their fingers this session.

This may sound like hyperbole, but it isn’t.

If anything, it understates the stakes involved for Florida’s environmental future as a deadline to buy land that could be used as a reservoir to store and clean polluted water gets nearer while the state dawdles.

▪ The land is available. The state has an option to buy 46,800 acres from U.S. Sugar under an agreement reached in 2010, when land values were low because of the housing collapse and the recession. The deal calls for a base price of $7,400 per acre or fair market value, whichever is higher.

▪ The acreage is a key piece of the Everglades restoration puzzle. The low-lying areas south of the lake would serve as reservoirs to filter out pollution and renew the flow of cleaner water that historically fed the River of Grass. Also: It would reduce the need to release polluted discharges east and west through the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers that wind up fouling coastal estuaries on both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

▪ For once, it’s not about the money. When they approved Amendment 1 by 75 percent last year, Florida voters said (shouted, actually) that they want to buy land for conservation purposes and created a fund with more than enough money to pay the estimated $350 million purchase price.

▪ The clock is ticking. The option to buy from U.S. Sugar expires in October. Realistically, the money must be allocated earlier to leave time for proper valuations and all the other details involved in such a massive land purchase.

▪ Politics is getting in the way. U.S. Sugar, a powerful lobby in Tallahassee, is no longer interested in selling. Once, when the corporation needed cash, they thought it was a great idea; now they say it’s a waste of money. The Legislature, as a result, isn’t making the purchase a priority. A Senate proposal on how to spend Amendment 1 money, released on March 19, includes no funds for that purpose. Neither does a House proposal unveiled two days earlier. (It does include money for purposes other than buying land, which would seem to thwart voter intent, but that’s fodder for another day.)

▪ There is no magic bullet to save the Everglades. This land purchase won’t do it, nor will any other single action. But Florida can’t afford to pass up this deal because it’s vital to the overall solution. This month, the University of Florida released a 143-page report confirming that “the current U.S. Sugar land purchase option” is among the must-have pieces of land that a winning environmental strategy requires.

Commendably, Gov. Scott and lawmakers have supported hundreds of millions in state expenditures over the years for the restoration effort. But they need to step up again, before the option to buy the land expires.

It will assuredly be more expensive later.

If restoration experts are right, there’s no alternative to using the land south of Lake Okeechobee to clean the Everglades. It’s been obvious for years, which is why the Editorial Board supported the move as far back as 2008, when a much-larger purchase involving much more money was envisaged.

Sooner or later, it has to happen, so why not now? The money is available. The land is available. The time is right.

The only thing missing is leadership.

Read more here:


Anonymous said...

too much power in the hands of a few in the Tallahassee committee system.

Literally one person - unelected by the vast majority of Floridians - can decide that he doesn't like Amendment 1 and thinks the government "owns too much land" and can kill the will of more than 70% of the voters.

It's f%$*ed up for sure.

Geniusofdespair said...

That disgraced Lynd Bell has a say in Florida Forever fund appropriations (appointed by Gov. Scott) must tell you something.

Anonymous said...

Too bad the feds can't bring racketeering charges against Gov. Scott and the legislature. They deserve to be locked up.

Anonymous said...

Jeb Bush did the same thing when we voted for class sizes in the school. Ignored it and never did anything about it.

Can we vote to make not following the express wishes of the voters a crime?

Alexandria said...

Maybe the next Amendment needs to be that elected officials who waste, abuse, and ignore taxpayer wishes get 20 years in Raiford. No cushy federal time. Let them go to the prisons they set up. maybe that will stop the insane over-development of South Florida. While were at it the bribers get 40 years I can bet the billionaire developers will not want to risk it and will hit the road. Goodbye to bad rubbish.