A Senate committee OK’d a proposal Monday that would require lawmakers to provide $100 million a year to preserve natural lands under the Florida Forever Trust Fund.
Created by lawmakers in 1999, Florida Forever is a conservation and recreation lands acquisition program designed to protect the state’s natural and cultural heritage.
Under the proposal (SB 1816), lawmakers would guarantee $100 million a year for the program and extend the retirement date of bonds issued by the Land Acquisition Trust Fund (LATF).
Voters in 2014 approved an amendment to establish a dedicated funding source for land and water conservation.
The measure would extend the bond life to 2054, adding roughly 14 years to the current retirement date of 2040.
The Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources OK’d the measure unanimously. Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart of Orlando is the bill sponsor.
“The voters had voted overwhelmingly for much more than that,” Stewart said of the $100 million. “And I recognize that that is so, but I think the $100 million is a good start toward what they voted for. If we can get that in the budget, that would be great.”
Florida Forever is the largest public land acquisition program of its kind in the United States with more than 869,477 acres purchased, according to a staff analysis.
Several proponents of the bill spoke to lawmakers during public testimony, urging the committee to pass it. Paul Owens, president of 1000 Friends of Florida, noted lawmakers used to provide upward of $300 million.
While Owens would like to see a greater pot of cash, he emphasized the importance of steady funding.
“You wouldn’t expect to run a business efficiently and effectively with uncertain and sporadic revenues from year to year, and you shouldn’t have to run a program that way,” Owens said.
Stewart’s proposal now awaits the consideration of two additional committees: the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Environment, and General Government as well as the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Republican Rep. Rick Roth of West Palm Beach is the House companion sponsor (HB 1377).