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Will budget battle negatively impact state land acquisition?

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A standoff over health care money has left the state without a spending plan. Environmentalists are worried they're going to become a casualty because of the budget battle.

Members of the Everglades Trust are planning to deliver thousands of petitions to lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott urging them to spend more money on buying new land

Seventy-five percent of voters approved Amendment 1 in November. The constitutional amendment directs the state to use tax dollars to buy environmental conservation lands. But Florida is locked in a budget battle over health care. With no solution readily available, that puts a lot of money, including Amendment 1 dollars, up in the air.

"We're left in limbo right now," Sen. Darren Soto said. "We had pushed to get from $2 million to $35 million for Amendment 1 land acquisition funds. The House is stuck at $15 million."

Supporters are asking for $150 million for Florida Forever, a program designed to fund land acquisitions. An estimated $750 million is available for Amendment 1, but House and Senate proposals don't come close to the request.

Amendment 1 supporters are comparing this to what the state did with the lottery in the 1980s, when voters approved using lottery money to provide funding for education. But the state backfilled some agency costs. Agencies are slated to get Amendment 1 money this time around, too.

"Voters approved the lottery based on the belief that it would increase funding for education," said Will Abberger of Amendment 1 Coalition. "Voters approved Amendment 1 based on the belief it would increase funding for conservation land acquisition."

Rep. Matt Gaetz said lawmakers want to come to a resolution before time runs out.

"My preference is to get that money working on behalf of the people of Florida," Gaetz said. "The way to do that is to make sure we have the infrastructure to support the land we have, both governmental and physical."

Environmentalists have pushed for purchasing land currently owned by U.S. Sugar, which they said could help restore the Everglades. The state's option to buy that land ends in October.