State lawmakers only seem to only respect the will of the people when it comes to their own elections. As far as ballot initiatives passed by voters are concerned, lawmakers act like they would rather not be bothered with being told what to do.
The Florida Legislature is considering measures to make it more difficult for these initiatives to be put on the ballot. The legislation comes as lawmakers are once again looking to shortchange the Florida Forever land conservation program, in defiance of a ballot measure that was meant to direct more money toward land conservation.
Nearly 75% of state voters approved the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative in 2014. The initiative was supposed to dedicate a third of revenue from a state tax on real-estate transactions to acquiring, managing and restoring conservation and recreation lands in Florida.
But lawmakers had other ideas, initially using the money for routine government expenses such as insurance premiums, technological upgrades and vehicle replacements. Supporters of the initiative sued and the issue continues to the subject of an ongoing legal battle.
Florida Forever had been funded at $300 million a year before the Great Recession, so initiative backers expected at least that much to be spent after the measure passed. But each year lawmakers have shortchanged the program, with the House this year proposing to spend $20 million and the Senate proposing $125 million.
The benefits of the program can be seen in the environmentally significant lands that have been protected throughout the state. For example, the newest addition to the state park system — Ruth B. Kirby Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park near High Springs — was acquired with Florida Forever funds in 2017.
The acquisition protects a collection of springs on the site at a time when increased groundwater pumping is proposed at nearby Ginnie Springs for a Nestle water-bottling plant. Given such threats and the pressures of increased growth in Florida, other environmentally significant lands need protection before it’s too late.
As budget talks between the House and Senate happen, lawmakers should at least support funding Florida Forever at the higher Senate amount. After all, House lawmakers managed to find millions for new tax breaks for the state’s biggest businesses, on top of the $543 million in corporate income taxes scheduled to be refunded this year.
At the same time, lawmakers are trying to make it harder to put citizen-backed measures like the Water and Land Conservation Initiative on the ballot. After last year putting new restrictions on the signature-collection process required for citizens to put initiatives on the ballot, the Legislature this session is considering additional requirements that would make the process even more cumbersome and costly.
From increasing land conservation to legalizing medical marijuana to expanding voting rights, ballot measures have been used by voters to implement changes that the Legislature refused to make. Lawmakers should stop messing with the initiative process, and instead show they are actually listening to voters through such steps as adequately funding Florida Forever.
By The Gainesville Sun