As they threatened to do, the environmental movement in Florida is not abiding by the the state Legislature’s failure to comply with Amendment 1, the Water and Land Conservation Initiative in the Florida Constitution approved last fall by voters.
A lawsuit was filed in Leon County Circuit Court on Monday afternoon by the Earthjustice group on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Senate President Andy Gardiner and the entire Legislature are named in the suit.
“The constitutional amendment is clear,” said Earthjustice attorney David Guest. “A third of the tax on real estate deals is to be used to prevent every last inch of Florida land from getting chewed up by development. But most lawmakers are simply not listening. That’s why we have to go to court.”
The amendment requires that for the next 20 years, 33 percent of the proceeds from real estate documentary-stamp taxes go for land acquisition. For the upcoming year, the share of the real-estate tax is projected to bring in more than $740 million.
The lawsuit contends that instead the Legislature “misappropriated” more than $300 million of the money and devoted it for to purposes not allowed for the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. The lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment finding that the Legislature has violated the state constitution by misappropriating that money.
“As a citizen who has worked her whole life to save what’s left of our beautiful state, I was so happy to see Florida voters pass the Water and Land Conservation Amendment last fall by such a huge margin,” Becky Ayech, of the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, said. “And now, to see that victory get wrecked by a political bait-and-switch leaves me and so many other people outraged. We need the legal system to set this right.”
One of the bill’s biggest critics in the Legislature, Umatilla Republican state Sen. Alan Hays, wrote last week that “while the proponents of Amendment 1 would now like us to believe their purpose was to require the state to purchase more land, the ballot language above clearly shows there is no requirement to spend a specific portion solely on land acquisition. Neither does the language indicate the entire sum is to be used for new purchases. Rather, the actual text of the amendment recognizes the broader responsibility in protecting and improving the state’s natural resources. In fact, arguing in favor of Amendment 1 before its passage, proponents contended the amendment would not require cuts to other programs or increases in revenues since nothing in the amendment prevented the use of funds for existing programs, including operating expenses.”
Hays also said during a committee meeting he chaired, “We don’t need to be known as the hoarding-land state. We need to be known as good stewards of the resources that the people own.”