Southeast Volusia Audubon Society, P.O. Box 46, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32170;

January 2015 Conservation Notes

History,Intent and Challenge of Amendment 1

by Lamont Ingalls

This past November Amendment 1, the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, passed handily, with 75% of the voters casting a “yes” vote for this addition to the Florida Constitution.  The voting percentage was well past the 60% supermajority required to amend the state Constitution.  Additionally, the 4.2+ million votes for Amendment 1 were more than those received by any one candidate or other initiative on the ballot.  This was a bi-partisan issue; votes favoring this amendment outnumbered those for either major gubernatorial candidate by around 1.4 million.  

As an editorialist in the Palm Beach Post (Nov 11, 2014) observed:

"Amendment 1, which takes effect in July, also is the largest state conservation money measure in U.S. history. …
Record numbers of Floridians voted for it — including 84 percent in Palm Beach County, nearly 80 percent in Martin and 81 percent in St. Lucie."

This widely-supported amendment demonstrates that Floridians want to ensure that Florida’s natural lands and waters are protected, expanded, sustained and restored through implementing extensive State-supported programs that support the goals of Amendment 1.   

Funds to be used to institute the programs supporting the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative will come from the state “documentary tax” for real estate transactions.  A third of this transaction tax will be dedicated to supporting the mandates of Amendment 1.  This fund is estimated to be 16-20 billion dollars over the next 20 years.  This initiative will greatly benefit Florida’s natural lands and waters, the crucible, cradle and home of millions of species of flora and fauna, including our local Homo sapiens nix ales.  For Audubon members in particular, this amendment provide the means to acquire new habitat and sustain or restore existing lands and waters which provide living space for those 400+ avian species who either nest, migrate or winter in Florida.

As stated in a press release (Nov 4, 2014) by Florida’s Land and Water Legacy, the organization that wrote the amendment, led the effort to place it on the ballot, and served as the principal “campaign consultant”:

Passage of Amendment 1, the Water and Land Conservation Amendment, is a historic victory for protection of Florida’s drinking water sources, the water quality of our rivers, lakes, and springs, and conservation of our state’s wildlife habitat, beaches, and natural areas. Floridians overwhelmingly voted Yes on Amendment 1, clearly showing that Florida voters understand the importance of water and land conservation to our state’s environment and to its economy. This should send a clear message to the Governor and Legislature that Florida voters overwhelmingly support increased state funding for water and land conservation, management, and restoration.

However, Amendment 1, although supported by the votes of over 4 million Floridians, must be implemented by the legislative and executive branches of the Florida State government.  A recent article on explored the political genesis of Amendment 1.  In this article, former Florida Audubon President and noted environmental attorney Clay Henderson, one of the authors of Amendment 1, noted that the Legislature would not be facing this challenge [of appropriating funds for programs that support Amendment 1] if it hadn't "zeroed out any land conservation in the last few years and cut back on water resource protection."

The article further explains the history and context for this initiative:

The ballot initiative came about after Gov. Rick Scott and the Legislature repeatedly cut programs that protect the state's vulnerable springs and watersheds, and dismantled the Department of Environmental Protection division in charge of acquiring environmentally sensitive land.
During that time, funding for Florida Forever, the land buying program used to protect water supplies and habitat, dropped from $300 million a year to a total of less than $29 million over the last four years. The governor and legislators used the savings from those cuts, and revenue from the doc stamp tax, to lower taxes and steer money into other spending priorities.
Amendment 1 was intended to reverse that trend, and repair the degradation of water recharge areas and the state's aquifer-fed springs.
[“Legislators will decide whether to limit impact of environmental initiative” by Mary Ellen Klas, Nov 24, 2014;]

The recent fate of the Florida Forever program created a strong need for this environmental protection amendment.

For many years the Legislature invested $300 million a year in Florida Forever, a program to buy land with money from a tax on real estate transactions. During the economic downturn, the Legislature pulled back. In 2010, Crist’s final year, the program received $15 million. In 2011, Scott proposed zeroing out Florida Forever (it ultimately got $744,000), and then in 2012 he signed a budget that included about $8 million. In 2013, lawmakers approved $20 million and directed the state to sell off $50 million worth of land to generate additional dollars. In March [2014] DEP scrapped the program without selling an acre.

The language and intent of the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative provides strong guidance for writing the legislation that implements and funds programs mandated by this voter initiative.

“It tells legislators,” Audubon of Florida’s Eric Draper said, “that voters knew what they were doing.” Indeed, more than 400 conservation organizations worked to educate voters on the amendment, said Will Abberger, vice president of the Conservation Campaign and director of The Trust for Public Lands conservation finance service.
A few [legislators] are talking about ways to spend the money that voters wouldn’t find acceptable. The money should not be spent on wastewater treatment, stormwater treatment projects or developing water supply for new developments.
“Any one of those things,” Abberger said, “by itself could take all the money.” Wastewater treatment historically has been financed by charging rate payers, spreading it out over the whole community. All of the rumored suggestions are outside the boundaries and purpose of the amendment.
“They’re not what voters want,” Abberger said. [Editorial;; Nov 11, 2014]

The voters have placed this conservation initiative within the State Constitution. The intent of the initiative is to directly acquire, conserve and restore Florida’s natural lands and waters.  It is up to the citizens who developed and supported this initiative to ensure that the legislature does not divert the intentions of this extensive group of voters who have stated that the “doc stamp” funds are to be directly supportive of the programs chartered through Amendment 1.