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News & Press: Advocacy Releases

FL Water/Land Legacy Petition

Wednesday, November 27, 2013   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jon Shiver
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Armed with a clipboard and a pitch about the importance of Florida's environment, Pembroke Pines retiree Darryl Rutz has collected nearly 1,600 signatures on a petition to amend the Florida Constitution to lock in funding for environmental protection.

Florida's Water and Land Legacy Inc. is promoting an amendment to establish a steady source of funding to protect wilderness and water. It has gathered more than 700,000 signatures to put the amendment on the ballot in the November 2014 election.

The amendment, backed by more than 300 environmental and civic organizations, would set aside one third of the revenue from real estate stamp taxes to pay for programs to acquire land, protect water and clean up the environment. Stamp tax revenue had been used for such programs in the past, but since the recession, the money has gone to fund other state programs.

"The environment is very important to me," said Rutz, a member of the Broward chapter of the Sierra Club. "I want my kids and my grandkids to enjoy what I did.''

Although no organized opposition has emerged, some are skeptical of the value of reducing legislators' flexibility in allocating state funds.

"There have been a lot of well-intentioned ideas of trying to fix a problem by changing the Constitution," said Dominic Calabro, president and chief executive officer of Florida TaxWatch. "If you put something in the Constitution, you can't make appropriate and necessary adjustments."

The campaign has two weeks before a self-imposed Nov. 30 deadline to gather enough signatures. Although the legal deadline is Feb. 1, organizers say they want to turn them in early to get them certified in time.

They need about 683,000 valid signatures but are aiming for 910,000, since they assume many will be disqualified. About 107,000 signatures submitted so far have come from Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.

The proposal would raise an estimated $648 million in its first year.

"What we're trying to do is make sure future generations of Floridians can enjoy clean water and wildlife and beaches, just as we do today," said Will Abberger, director of conservation finance for the Trust for Public Lands.

Richard Grosso, director of the Environmental and Land Use Law Clinic at Nova Southeastern University, said environmental protection meets the high standard for inclusion in the state's basic governing document.

"It's fundamental enough to the future of the state of Florida that our Constitution should require that we always have an adequate land-buying program," he said. "It's not a luxury in Florida, it is basic to the protection of the future of the state, and it should not be subject to the ebbs and flows of the political process."

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