Florida Voters To Decide Funding For Land Conservation Should Be Part of Constitution

, Daily Business Review

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Florida voters will get to decide in November if funding for land conservation should be cemented into the state Constitution.

But don't expect top lawmakers to support the proposed constitutional amendment, which will appear as Amendment No. 1 on the Nov. 4 ballot after getting final approval this week from the Florida Department of State.

Asked if he would support the amendment, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said in an email Friday that "Legislating via constitutional amendments doesn't work in California and it won't work here!"

Meanwhile, Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, contends the amendment will shift too much land into state control.

"The government already owns a large percentage of our state," Gaetz' spokeswoman Katie Betta said in an email. "President Gaetz does not believe in obligating the taxpayers of Florida to arbitrarily give the government control over more land."

Gaetz favors the Legislature being able to look at each transaction on its own rather than setting up "an eternal government land acquisition program," Betta said.

"The amendment is not about a specific piece of land, or a particular transaction, rather he believes the amendment is based on a core belief that more land of some kind somewhere needs to be controlled by the government and not private landholders," Betta added.

The proposed amendment, backed by a group called "Florida's Water and Land Legacy, Inc.," seeks to set aside 33 percent of the state's documentary stamp tax revenues—fees paid when real estate is sold—for 20 years to acquire conservation and recreation lands, manage existing lands, protect lands that are critical for water supply and restore degraded natural systems.

The proposal could generate $10 billion over its life, the group said.

Will Abberger, the campaign chairman for Florida's Water and Land Legacy Inc., said the intent of the amendment is to provide a dedicated and sustainable source of money to protect Florida's water resources.

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