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Florida Senate ramps up pressure on House for conservation funding

The historic lighthouse built in 1825 and reconstructed in 1846, and is the oldest standing structure in Miami-Dade County. It was preserved with public funding, becoming Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park in Key Biscayne.
The historic lighthouse built in 1825 and reconstructed in 1846, and is the oldest standing structure in Miami-Dade County. It was preserved with public funding, becoming Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park in Key Biscayne. (AP photo/Alan Diaz)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Funding for land conservation is one item where the Florida House and Senate are far apart in their proposed budgets for next year. This year the Senate is proposing $125 million for Florida Forever, while the House set aside just $20 million.

Florida forever was once funded at about $300 million a year, but that all changed in 2008.

"Since the 2008 recession, funding has been zeroed out or very low,” said Lindsay Cross with the Florida Conservation Voters.

Dedicating a guaranteed funding source for the program was the focus of a 2014 constitutional amendment approved by 75% of voters. The amendment has been largely ignored by lawmakers, but a bill moving through the Senate aims to set the baseline funding going forward at a minimum of $100 million.

“And this would be reoccurring funding for our suite of conservation programs. This means that we don’t have to come and fight for this every year, but that we can put our time and our energy into making sure that we start to grow the investments in our critical conservation programs,” said Cross.

The Senate bill also would prohibit Florida Forever money from being used on things like executives’ salaries and administrative costs.

If nothing more, the bill is an effort to pressure the House to up its offer.

Senators do have one thing going for them: Gov. Ron DeSantis has requested $100 million for Florida Forever for the past two years, although last year it only received $34.5 million.

“The citizens want us to have a larger amount set aside and we’re just going to have to work on that because this bill that I introduced is just the floor,” said the bill’s sponsor Sen. Linda Stewart, D-Orlando.

If the Senate bill becomes law, $100 million for Land Conservation could become the expectation instead of the exception.