Environmental Policy News

Florida Legislature to Respond by August to Environmental Groups’ Motion for Judgement

In an environmental lawsuit underway in Leon County Circuit Court, the Florida State Legislature has asked for additional time to form and file a response to a motion for summary judgement filed on 1 June 2016; this according to Bradley Marshall, Sr. Associate Attorney at Earthjustice’s Florida Regional Office. The lawsuit was filed in June 2015.

Speaking by phone to ECO, Marshall explained that the Florida State Legislature asked for more time to respond and that all parties agreed on 1 August 2016 as a deadline.

The motion filed today states, in part:

“Floridians voted to dedicate tax revenues to land purchases and land restoration—not salaries of existing employees and ordinary expenses. There is no doubt about what Florida voters understood Amendment One to mean because they read the ballot title—‘Dedicates Funds to Acquire and Restore Conservation and Recreation Lands.’ Having read the ballot title and summary, Florida voters approved Amendment One by an extraordinary 75% margin.”

The amendment did not impose any new taxes. It requires that, for the next 20 years, 33% of the proceeds from the already existing real estate documentary-stamp taxes go for land acquisition.

“State officials have misused these funds, plain and simple,” said Earthjustice Managing Attorney David Guest. “We are asking the court today to uphold the state Constitution. Floridians put an amendment into the Constitution directing the state to use these tax dollars to buy and restore conservation land. We don’t understand why the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott’s administration are shamelessly ignoring what 75% of us voted for. With this legal action, we are asking a judge to hold up the intent of Florida voters.”

The motion is part of a legal case filed in Leon County Circuit Court on behalf of the Florida Wildlife Federation, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, the Sierra Club, and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida.

“We are going to keep fighting to make sure the Legislature does what we asked it to do,” said Florida Wildlife Federation Manley Fuller. “Floridians are hopping mad about this, and for good reason.”

The proceeds of the Land and Water Conservation Amendment totaled $750 million in the first year. But, as today’s request for summary judgment explains, instead of buying conservation land, the Legislature used the money to pay for existing employees and ordinary agency expenses at the Departments of Environmental Protection, State, Agriculture and Consumer Services, and at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

According to the filing, for Fiscal Year 2015-2016, almost all of the Amendment One appropriations were simply accounting changes that substituted Amendment One moneys for other moneys that had been the funding source for salaries and operating expenses of existing environmental programs. Even with these accounting substitutions, the post-Amendment One appropriations for both the Department of Environmental Protection and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were actually reduced by $60.3 million and $6.3 million respectively as compared to the year predating the passage of Amendment One. Furthermore, after payment of debt service, the substantial majority of Land Acquisition Trust Fund appropriations were for salaries and operating expenses of four state agencies. The rest went to agricultural pollution control projects on private lands and general water condition programs.

In short, the motion states, “Most of the available Amendment One moneys were misappropriated by the Legislature.”

“It's the case of The Will of the People vs. The Greed of the Legislature,” said Frank Jackalone of the Sierra Club. “We hope Florida's courts will reject the Legislature's power grab and uphold the voters' decision to spend their tax dollars to protect and conserve Florida's land and water forever.”

“There is a dire need to conserve and restore more Florida land and water for future generations,” said St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman. “It is heartbreaking to see voter-dedicated funds siphoned off on non-authorized expenses ignoring a 75% vote of Floridians.”

To read the filed motion, click here.

For more information, click here.

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