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Where is Florida's environmental money?

Environmental spending agreement needs to be reached

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Health care may have been the main reason lawmakers had to hold a special session to craft a state budget, but as there's still nearly a $1 billion environmental spending agreement that needs to be reached as mandated by voters under Amendment 1.

It looks like much of the Amendment 1 funding will be used to backfill state agency spending, which environmentalists said could lead to the issue being settled in the courts.

Lawmakers have yet to agree on how to spend the more than $700 million they have to work with under the voter-approved Amendment 1.

A big difference is whether to invest the money in long-term bonds. Environmentalists think it's a smart idea.

"Voters, when they approved Amendment 1, they approved using the Amendment 1 dollars to pay the service on bonds, so that's the smartest way to get the money for springs and Everglades and the parks that we need," said Eric Draper, of Audubon Florida.

The House is on board, but the Senate is opposed. Senate Budget Chief Tom Lee said it's hypocritical for the House to reject federal money for health care, but then want to bond environmental money.

"For whatever reason, there's a preponderance of the members of the Legislature that didn't want to draw down federal money to remediate the problems we have in our budget, but they want to whip out a credit card, conveniently, and blow a lot of money in the environment," Lee said.

Because the House and Senate can't seem to come to an agreement, both chambers' budget chairmen will have the ultimate decision.

The Everglades Trust, which wants to use Amendment 1 money to buy U.S. sugar land around the Glades, has launched attack ads on lawmakers they claim aren't doing enough.

Sen. Joe Negron wants to bond around $40 million for Everglades' purchases.

"I think it's appropriate given the language in Amendment 1 that we use financing to make environmental land purchases," Negron said.

Whatever the outcome, environmentalists are clear on one thing: lawmakers are only spending a fraction of what they should be to honor the will of voters.