By Gary Appelson
In 1997, the Florida legislature approved the Sea Turtle Specialty License Plate. The idea for the specialty plate was conceived, designed and sponsored by the Sea Turtle Conservancy (STC). Almost every year STC would have to struggle to convince the legislature to fund efforts to protect Florida’s sea turtles. To avoid this, STC sought a dedicated funding mechanism that would not be dependent on the vagaries of the legislature. Since 1997 the sea turtle specialty plate has raised millions of dollars that goes directly to supporting the state’s sea turtle protection programs. Similarly, the Florida Water and Land Legacy campaign was conceived by residents and environmental organizations frustrated over inadequate state funding for critical environmental protection and land acquisition programs. For almost two decades Florida had the nation’s premier land protection and conservation program; most recently called Florida Forever. In 2009, with the nation’s fiscal crises deepening, the legislature de-funded this popular land buying program and cut funding for many other environmental protection programs. This campaign was designed to eliminate these funding short falls.
Florida’s Water and Land Legacy Initiative is led by a coalition of thousands of volunteers and 300 civic and conservation organizations, including Sea Turtle Conservancy, the League of Women Voters, 1000 Friends of Florida, The Trust for Public Land, and the Florida Wildlife Federation, that have united to put the Florida Water and Land Legacy Amendment on the November 2014 ballot and help ensure its passage. Over the last year and a half over 700,000 signed petitions were collected and verified to meet the requirement to place the Legacy constitutional amendment on the ballot. It will be Amendment 1. For the Amendment to pass, at least 60% of Florida voters have to vote “yes” on the measure. If approved, Amendment 1 will arguably be one of the most important state conservation initiatives in American history.
So what will Amendment 1 do? It will not raise taxes. It sets aside 33% of documentary stamp revenues for the next 20 years and places the money into a special Land Acquisition Trust Fund. Documentary stamps are an excise tax placed on all real estate transactions in Florida. The money in the fund can only be used for the purposes outlined in the amendment. Amendment 1 states that the money must be spent “to acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands including wetlands and forests; fish and wildlife habitat; lands protecting water resources and drinking water sources, including the Everglades, and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams; beaches and shores; outdoor recreational lands; working farms and ranches; and historic or geologic sites.” The stated goals would be to manage and restore natural systems and to enhance public access and recreational use of conservation lands. Wow, that is a tall order! If passed, the amendment will raise about $600 million in fiscal year 2015-2016 and billions over its 20 year life.
There has never been a greater opportunity to protect Florida’s natural resources for future generations. Protecting beaches and shores protects sea turtle nesting habitat. Protecting surface waters enhances water quality in near shore marine environments utilized by sea turtles. Join STC in supporting Amendment 1. Together we can create an environmental legacy we can all be proud of. For more information or to learn about the campaign and how you can support it, visit the Legacy Campaign online at www.VoteYesOn1FL.org. And don’t forget to Vote Yes for Amendment 1 in Nov.