The state Legislature is split on appropriations for programs funded through Florida Forever — by nearly $172 million.
The House wants to fund projects under the state’s land-buying trust at $36 million. A Friday budget offer from the Senate proposed close to a $208 million spend on the same programs — just ahead of the conference committee morning deadline.
That’s an issue for budget chairs Rep. Carlos Trujillo and Sen. Rob Bradley, who now are tasked with negotiating to a common ground before Sunday morning, when unfinished budget issues ‘bump’ to Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
In negotiating with Trujillo, Bradley likely will make the case for Florida Forever. Funding the program is one of his major priorities.
In October, before he assumed chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Fleming Island Republican filed a bill (SB 370) that provided a $100 million yearly spend on Florida Forever. He cited then that Florida voters had “overwhelmingly” approved funding for the conservation program in 2014 through the passage of Amendment 1.
Taking over as budget chief for former Sen. Jack Latvala, Bradley came into unexpected power in the chamber. He saw SB 370 move through committees and receive unanimous approval on the Senate floor in January.
The bill was included in the Senate-backed budget, which initially proposed a $150 million transfer into Florida Forever. The House budget appropriated nothing for that transfer but proposed $43 million for programs associated with Florida Forever.
Those differences have been exacerbated in budget conferences, as each chamber has moved in opposite directions with land acquistion appropriations. The Senate upped their transfer to Florida Forever to around $198 million, using a $10 million residual to get a $208 million total. Almost $195 million of that figure is spent on land-buying programs administered by the Department of Environmental Protection.
The House proposed $16 million for the same DEP programs, and $20 million for a Florida Forever-funded conservation easement program administered by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Bradley’s plan to increase funding for the programs has drawn support from environmental activists throughout Session. Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida Conservation Voters, commended the chamber and Bradley for continuing the effort through the budget conference process.
“We are excited to see that the Senate is holding strong on robust funding for Florida Forever,” Moncrief told Florida Politics.
Seeking support from Trujillo, Moncrief’s organization has asked its supporters to call his office and express their support for more Florida Forever funding. She’s optimistic that the two chambers will find a healthy compromise.
“I feel like where we’re going to land is somewhere in between where the House started and where the Senate started,” Moncrief said.
Along with Florida Forever, Bradley also had prioritized restoration projects for springs and the St. Johns River this Session. He also sought $50 million to construct a water pipeline to replenish lakes in the Keystone Heights area.
Those projects appear to be funded in budget conference negotiations — but with much less than what was provided for in Bradley’s bill (SB 204).
Instead of appropriating $75 million this year, both chambers have kept springs restoration funding at $50 million, according to a Senate staffer familiar with the budgeting process. St. Johns River and Keystone Heights area projects currently sit at $10.5 million, instead of Bradley’s original $50 million ask.