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Diane Roberts: Legislators are stealing the money meant to protect the environment

OCCUPIED TALLAHASSEE — This is what the Florida Constitution says, right up top, Article I, Section 1: All political power is inherent in the people.

I’m guessing most Florida legislators have never read it. Either that or they don’t give a good goddamn. For the second year in a row, they are misappropriating — stealing, in plain English — your money, the money you said should be used for protecting Florida’s land and water.

In 2014, 75 percent of voters said yes on amending the state Constitution to set aside part of the documentary stamp tax to buy fragile lands, important habitat, wetlands and water recharge areas.

That’s more people than said yes to Rick Scott, the Cabinet or any member of the Legislature.

But some votes are more equal than others. You’re not Big Ag or Big Frack. You’re not Big Sugar. You voted; the Legislature ignored you.

Or insulted you. Sen. Alan Hays, with all the breathtaking arrogance that comes from years of practicing dentistry, thinks the state owns too much of that dang conservation land. Environmentalism is un-American and you little ol’ citizens didn’t understand Amendment One, bless your hearts.

Consequently, the money that you plebeians fondly imagined would be spent on springsheds or longleaf pine forests or wildlife corridors or aquifer protection will go instead to pay for sewage treatment and insurance in state agencies covering liability for Civil Rights Act violations and worker’s comp claims. The legislature took $174 million to pay salaries at the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Environmental Prostitution, and the Department of State.

Florida Forever, our conservation land-buying program, got $17 million — a tenth of what that bunch of state agencies received, even though there was $550 million available.

It’s as if you’re a business owner and you hire some people to clean up the office, get rid of the asbestos, eradicate the mold making everybody sneeze, pull up that crappy old carpet, get a couple of water filters, and generally make the place healthier and more pleasant.

But they defy your clear instructions and take the company card to Costco where they buy a ton of Doritos, a gallon of pickled pigs’ trotters and six cases of Bud, and throw themselves a righteous party.

Then they say, “Sorry! We maxed out the Visa.”

Fixing up the office will have to wait. And is it really a big deal? Here, have another beer.

A couple of weeks ago, Sen. Thad Altman, one of the few Republicans who actually cares about both the environment and what his constituents think, tried to put $222 million of Amendment One money back into the budget.

This wasn’t extra revenue, not money snatched out of the tiny hands of schoolchildren or stolen from the meager purses of Medicare patients or yanked away from underpaid state workers. This money was designated for Amendment One by you, the voters.

Majority Leader Bill Galvano of Bradenton ruled Altman “out of order”   on the grounds that with the money for conservation lands, the Senate budget would be “out of balance.”

Where did that Florida Forever funding go? Into the general budget, where you’ll never see it again.

Legislators did throw some cash at the Everglades — $220 million — and hallelujah for that. We’re decades behind where we should be in partnership with the feds.

But last year, Florida had a chance to buy 47,000 acres of farmland needed for storing water vital to River of Grass restoration. U.S. Sugar originally made the deal, worth $500 million to $600 million,  during the recession. Come the housing revival, Big Shug decided it preferred to develop the land, build resorts and malls and condos on the land.

What Big Shug wants, Big Shug gets. The deal died.

A cynical person like me (I’ve lived in Florida for more than five minutes, you see) might think that the reason the ‘glades are getting some love this year is that, hey, there’s an election going on! Everybody’s heard of the Everglades.

Democracy in Florida has become a kind of Kabuki, a performance with elaborate masks and ritual moves, concealing the dark reality that we, the citizens, simply don’t matter to those we have put in office.

The tides are rising ever-higher in South Florida. The water is getting ever-dirtier. But the power-drunk, small-souled weasels who run this state regard natural Florida as a commodity to be monetized, not a treasure to be cherished. They want to turn state parks into profit centers. They want to privatize state conservation lands.

All they care about is money–and the next election.

You? The Voter? They’re just not that into you. And the Constitution? Nothing more than some old piece of paper.

***

Diane Roberts’s latest book is Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America. She teaches at Florida State University. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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Diane Roberts teaches at Florida State University. Her latest book, “Tribal: College Football and the Secret Heart of America,” will be out in paperback in the fall.

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