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Tuesday, Oct 21, 2014
Editorials

Protecting the economy and land

Published:

A report that found Florida’s parks generate $1.2 billion in economic impact highlights the importance of a constitutional amendment that would ensure future funding for land acquisition.

For years, Republicans and Democrats alike supported purchasing beaches, springs and wilderness tracts to ensure their preservation.

But where the state traditionally devoted about $300 million a year to land acquisition, that number has shrunk to less than $10 million.

Thus the need for the Florida’s Water and Land Legacy Campaign.

The citizens’ petition drive would place a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November that would restore funding to normal levels by requiring 33 percent of the proceeds of the documentary stamp tax to be used for conservation.

This would not be a new tax. It would merely ensure a portion of the fee tied to real-estate development is used for environmental preservation, as originally was intended by the Florida Forever-Preservation 2000 programs.

Some background: In 1990, Republican Gov. Bob Martinez launched Preservation 2000, which used a portion of the proceeds from the documentary stamp tax on real estate transactions for land conservation. Republican Gov. Jeb Bush continued the popular program as Florida Forever.

But under Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers in recent years, conservation funding has virtually dried up.

A reduction was understandable when the economy and state revenue hit the skids, but even as the economy rebounds and Florida’s population growth hits warp speed again, lawmakers still refuse to invest in protecting the natural resources that underpin the state’s appeal.

Indeed, some myopic lawmakers want to virtually eliminate state and local land purchases.

The economic report on our state parks, and the rapid growth of ecotourism, reveal the foolishness of such shenanigans.

According to the Department of Environmental Protection, about 26 million people visited state parks last year, generating $1.2 billion in economic activity and supporting nearly 20,000 jobs. The parks produced more than $77 million in sales tax dollars for the state.

And DEP estimates that for every 1,000 people who visit a state park or trail, the direct impact on the local economy is close to $47,000.

Such numbers do not address how many people want to live in Florida because of its natural beauty and recreational opportunities. Realtors know that conservation lands usually increase the value of surrounding properties because people like to live near undeveloped land.

And there also is no way to compute how many expenses conservation spares taxpayers by protecting water supplies, preventing pollution and other growth-related problems. Land acquisition also offers a way to protect resources without cumbersome regulations or disputes with landowners.

Scott seems to be slowly awakening to the value of conservation, but the Legislature has shown little interest in restoring reasonable funding to land acquisition and has even engaged in a poorly executed effort to sell off “surplus lands,” some of which have environmental value.

With the Water and Land Conservation Amendment, citizens can free conservation or political considerations and ensure future generations can enjoy our state’s unique natural beauty. (More information and the petition can be found at www.floridawaterlandlegacy.org/index.php)

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