Dedicated to the protection of birds, other animals, and their habitats through education and activism
Southeast Volusia Audubon Society, P.O. Box 46, New Smyrna Beach, FL 32170; president@SEVolusiaAudubon.org
Since the passage of Amendment 1 this past November there has been much discussion at the local and state levels about allocating Amendment 1 funds to projects involving water and sewer infrastructure. These funds from the state documentary stamp tax could total about $750 million dollars this year and are already seen as a course of funding for activities and programs, including operating budgets of state agencies, that are not within the defined purposes of Amendment.The Amendment states:
SECTION 28. Land Acquisition Trust Fund.—
a) Effective on July 1 of the year following passage of this amendment by the voters, and for a period of 20 years after that effective date, the Land Acquisition Trust Fund shall receive no less than 33 percent of net revenues derived from the existing excise tax on documents, as defined in the statutes in effect on January 1, 2012, as amended from time to time, or any successor or replacement tax, after the Department of Revenue first deducts a service charge to pay the costs of the collection and enforcement of the excise tax on documents.
b) Funds in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund shall be expended only for the following purposes:
As provided by law, to finance or refinance: the acquisition and improvement of land, water areas, and related property interests, including conservation easements, and resources for conservation lands including wetlands, forests, and fish and wildlife habitat; wildlife management areas; lands that protect water resources and drinking water sources, including lands protecting the water quality and quantity of rivers, lakes, streams, springsheds, and lands providing recharge for groundwater and aquifer systems; lands in the Everglades Agricultural Area and the Everglades Protection Area, as defined in Article II, Section 7(b); beaches and shores; outdoor recreation lands, including recreational trails, parks, and urban open space; rural landscapes; working farms and ranches; historic or geologic sites; together with management, restoration of natural systems, and the enhancement of public access or recreational enjoyment of conservation lands.
Note that the word “land(s)” is often used by itself or as a key modifier to define the supported action (for example, “lands providing recharge for groundwater and aquifer systems”). By supporting this amendment Floridians are sending the message that they want to ensure that Florida’s natural lands and waters are protected, expanded, sustained and restored. These goals are best accomplished though “the acquisition and improvement of land, water areas, and related property interests, including conservation easements, and resources for conservation lands including wetlands, forests, and fish and wildlife habitat.”
The language and intent of this amendment offers strong guidance for writing the legislation that implements and funds programs mandated by this voter initiative. The initial active programs supported by Amendment 1 funds should be those that directly acquire and protect conservation lands and associated surface waters and springs.
There is no language in Amendment 1 indicating that these funds, which will be sourced from the State Documentary tax for real estate transactions, are to be used for any water and sewer infrastructure projects. The money should not be spent on wastewater treatment, stormwater treatment projects or creating water supply for new developments.
In the mid-20th century, when Florida was being transformed by widespread development to support an ever-expanding human population, it is estimated that 7 million acres of natural lands were converted to urban uses (including increasing agricultural and range lands). In the years to come, Florida, which is now the third most populous state, is projected to lose millions of more acres to development associated with human population increase. Our remaining natural lands are the headwaters of a viable eco-system. Without these “headwaters” those natural systems which sustain all life will be degraded. Thus, land acquisition should now be the major priority for applying Amendment 1 funds. As Mark Twain said, “Buy land, they’re not making it anymore.” Legislators who are considering the uses of Amendment 1 funds should heed Twain’s advice.