Legendary Florida environmentalist Nathaniel Reed has added his voice to the chorus of disapproval of Florida's Legislature. He says the body's failure to enact key legislation — as the house quit early over a Medicaid funding fight — has made the state “the laughingstock of the country.”
Among the many bills that died as a result were laws to put into motion Amendment 1, which dedicates millions of dollars to acquire and restore conservation and recreation lands. “We’ve never had such a nonfunctioning legislature as we have now,” Reed tells New Times.
Reed, who is now 81 years old, would know. He has served seven Florida governors and was assistant secretary of the interior for Fish & Wildlife and Parks in the Nixon and Ford administrations. He serves as chairman of the Commission on Florida's Environmental Future and sits on the board of directors of the Everglades Foundation.
Because of what many say are worrying trends in conservation across the state, 75 percent of Florida’s voters took matters into their own hands last year when they voted for Amendment 1, which would divert millions to Florida Forever, a fund for conservation land acquisition.
The program was approved in 1999 and envisioned to raise $300 million a year, but it has been a target of budget cuts over the years. Since 2009, the program saw a 97 percent drop in funding. So last year, a coalition comprising more than a dozen groups devised a way to fund the program through part of a state real-estate tax. They gathered enough petitions to put Amendment 1 on ballots, and on November 4, voters approved it — overwhelmingly.
Amendment 1 is supposed to set aside about $750 million a year for land purchases to “keep drinking water clean, protect our rivers, lakes, and springs, restore natural treasures like the Everglades, and protect our beaches and shores — without any increase in taxes,” according to Florida’s Water and Land Legacy. No implementing legislation was required; the legislature simply needed to divvy up the funds.
Though environmental leaders had been preparing for cuts to the $750 million figure, they didn’t expect complete inaction in appropriations for the program.
Now, Reed says that progress made under the governorships of Bob Martinez, Bob Graham, Lawton Chiles, and Jeb Bush is being lost all too rapidly under the administration of Rick Scott — where “growth is God again.”
Reed stresses the critical importance of funding a range of projects, such as getting more fresh water to flow south to the Biscayne Aquifer, the vast basin beneath South Florida that supplies drinking water to a huge portion of the state’s population. Because of development projects in the path of the water’s flow, not enough fresh water is getting to the aquifer. As sea level continues to rise, the drinking water of South Florida’s 7 million people is at risk.
“The governor has said twice that water must go south, yet he hasn’t done a single thing to accelerate that process,” Reed says. “Our children are going to pay for it.”
Reed says we should all be worried about the “growth-at-all-costs” mindset of the current administration.
“To them, whatever green land is left is developable,” he says. “I’m getting scared about our state.”
Lawmakers still have a chance to address Amendment 1 funding during the special session of the legislature that will begin at some point this spring.