With $75 million earmarked for the Florida Forever land buying program and another $60 million for the Everglades, Gov. Rick Scott's spending blueprint met with applause Thursday from environmentalists encouraged by a seeming recommitment to their causes.
Scott announced the environmental funding priorities as part of a $74.2 billion spending plan the governor proposed Thursday.
To pay for Florida Forever purchases, the first in several years, Scott has proposed earmarking $50 million from state land sales, which typically revert to the general revenue fund.
"We'll see how much land there is and what we have that is extra," Scott said. "I've set aside $25 million for additional land purchases for sure, and then depend on how much land is sold up to $50 million."
Environmentalists say they will watch to see where the money comes from but at first blush are encouraged at funding levels of Florida Forever and the Everglades , which have been hit hard by recent tough fiscal times.
"This is really good news on both fronts," said Eric Draper, executive director of Audubon Florida. "It's the first time in several years that we will see over $130 million in potential funding for both these programs."
A 1998 constitutional amendment prevents state officials from selling conservation lands unless they no longer serve that purpose. Draper said that early concerns were tempered after meetings with the Department of Environmental Protection officials, who pledged to abide by the spirit and intent of the constitutional requirement.
"With the economy recovering, it is important to allocate funds to preserve our state’s natural areas and protect the places that make Florida special," the Florida Forever Coalition said in a statement. "We look forward to working alongside the governor this legislative session to advocate for the appropriation of funds for Florida Forever."
"We appreciate the governor’s commitment to Everglades restoration and we believe the Florida Legislature will more than match his recommendation," said Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, in a statement. "We look forward to working with Gov. Scott and the Legislature during the upcoming session to ensure that this funding proposal moves forward.”