(Published in Context Florida) The Tampa Bay Times is recommending a “no” vote for a constitutional amendment before voters in November.
The proposal put forward by conservationists would allocate one-third of the documentary stamp tax required of real estate transactions to be applied to acquisition of conservation lands. In 2016, the newspaper notes, more than $600 million could be allocated to this important purpose.
The Times makes two principal arguments: first, that a referendum should not be used to determine the state budget and second, what politics giveth (the documentary stamp tax), politics can taketh away.
I agree with the Times that the Legislature is responsible for the budget. Did Gov. Rick Scott and the majority of the Legislature reflect the will of the people when they radically cut Forever Florida, the state’s land acquisition program and a model for the nation? No.
What they did was to solidify the hammerlock of big campaign contributors, like Big Sugar, to thwart and delay and increase the price of the only reasonable chance for restoring the Everglades: land acquisition.
Example 1: in 2008, then Gov. Charlie Crist announced a bold plan to acquire the sugar lands owned by U.S. Sugar Corporation. His opponents killed the plan for two main reasons. Some said it was too expensive and others said it was not expensive enough!
Gov. Rick Scott, who knew zilch about land conservation or the history of bipartisan struggle to secure land protection through Forever Florida, killed the Crist plan in short order.
Instead of buying the U.S. Sugar land, Floridians are now watching the company roll out its demand for state approval for new development rights involving 18,000 acres it owns in Hendry County. The company’s efforts have been lubricated by outings to the King Ranch in Texas that the corporation provided to top GOP legislators and Scott. There, if gullible Florida voters are to believe it, they only discussed hunting not bid’ness.
Floridians are turning to referendums because the power of special interest money has deformed our democracy. The Tampa Bay Times does not like using the ballot box to legislate. And, yes, what politics giveth, politics may taketh away.
That’s what happened when Scott and the Legislature scuttled growth management and the Florida Department of Community Affairs, after environmentalists tried to use a referendum — Florida Hometown Democracy — to put the power of community growth in the hands of voters instead of land speculators and developers.
It is also what happened with Fair Districts, a referendum that passed with more than 60 percent of voters’ approval, and then devolved into years of intransigence by Scott and the GOP.
Remember: it takes a village to raise a child. It takes an army of voters to protect the village. The majority of Floridians have no other way to demonstrate their displeasure with an extremist Legislature other than at the ballot box. Vote “for” Amendment One.
Let Floridians act to save what the extreme right won’t.
Alan Farago writes the daily blog, Eye On Miami, under the pen name, Gimleteye. He is president of Friends of the Everglades, a grass roots conservation organization based in Miami, FL. A long-time writer and advocate for Florida’s environment, his work is archived at alanfarago.wordpress.com Column courtesy of Context Florida.