73ºF

Amendment 1 passes; Now what?

Amendment funds water, land conservation

photo

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Even though an amendment approved on Election Day didn't raise or add any new taxes, it means the amount of money being devoted to land conservation in Florida could approach $1 billion a year.

Call it a 20-year environmental insurance policy. Florida's Water and Land Conservation measure, Amendment 1, only needed 60 percent to pass, but nearly 75 percent of voters said yes.

It was the only amendment to pass in Florida on Election Day, and it did so with overwhelming support. Now, what's next for the environment with the passage of Amendment 1?

"We're just humbled by the tremendous outpouring of support we've seen from Floridians across the state," said Will Abberger, an Amendment 1 campaign manager.

Abberger helped lead the charge to get the amendment on the ballot. Money will come from a tax already in place, with billions of dollars going to the environment over the next two decades. So now what?

"I think very clearly that Florida voters place a priority on state funding, increased state funding for water and land conservation, to help protect the quality of our drinking waters, the water quality of our rivers (and) of our lakes," Abberger said.

The need for the amendment stems from cuts during the recession. The Florida Forever conservation program was established in 1990 and supported by Republican and Democratic governors.

"This is treasure," said former Gov. Lawton Chiles. "A lot of people never get to see something this good in their life."

It was gutted in 2009. Water-use attorney Pete Dunbar said now, the challenge is on the Legislature to implement the money.

"It is for the Legislature and the governor now to bring this in to a cohesive program so that monies are spent appropriately, and the key would be not to create a grab bag but make it meaningful, make it productive," Dunbar said.

Opponents of the amendment said they were worried the constitutional amendment ties the hands of legislators. They're left wondering what will happen if there's another recession and that money put away for the environment is needed somewhere else.