Friday, August 28, 2015

Fla. Wildlife Federation files lawsuit to restore diverted State land dollars

August 27, 2015
Manley Fuller, President, Florida Wildlife Federation
(850) 656-7113 or (850) 567-7129
Injunction Seeks to Restore Money to State's Conservation Land-buying Fund
TALLAHASSEE - In a legal filing today, the Florida Wildlife Federation and three other citizen groups are seeking an injunction to stop state officials from diverting the state's conservation land-buying fund to pay for other state functions.
"The voters who approved the Water and Land Conservation Amendment 1 last November are clear - by a 75 percent majority - that they want this tax money to buy conservation land," Florida Wildlife Federation president Manley Fuller said.  "In our court filing today, we point out that the Legislature took the land conservation money and earmarked it for a variety of things it isn't supposed to pay for, including worker's comp claims and executive salaries."
The suit asks a Leon Circuit Court judge to order the Legislature to return monies back to the state's Land Acquisition Trust Fund. Earthjustice is representing the Wildlife Federation and three other groups -- Sierra Club, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, and the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida in the lawsuit. Today's action is an amendment to a legal complaint the groups filed in June.
According to today's legal complaint, the Legislature has diverted funds from the state's Land Acquisition Trust Fund to pay for various appropriations, including:
- $1,222,158 for risk management insurance for the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Department of State and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, covering liability for, among other things, damage awards for Civil Rights Act violations, damage claims against the agencies for negligent injuries to people and for property damage, and worker's compensation claims;
- $623,043 to pay for executive leadership and administrative services to wildlife programs in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission;
- $21,697,449 to the Department of Agriculture ($5,000,000 of which was vetoed by the Governor) to pay for implementation of agricultural best management practices on non-conservation, privately owned  lands;
- $174,078,574  for salaries and overhead for personnel within the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Department of Environmental Protection, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, and the Department of State;
- $838,570 for wildfire suppression vehicles for the Department of Agriculture;
- $5,000,000 to the Department of Agriculture to pay agricultural operations to keep their pollution on their own land;
- $38,575,538  to the Department of Environmental Protection that can be used to build sewage treatment plants and storm water treatment systems.
"We understand that many of these programs are important state programs, but they should not be funded by the conservation amendment funds," Fuller said. "They should be funded by other state revenue sources."
The Water and Land Conservation Amendment that voters passed in November, 2014 requires that, for the next 20 years, 33 percent of the proceeds from real estate documentary-stamp taxes go for land acquisition. It did not impose a new tax; the documentary-stamp tax has long funded Florida's conservation land-buying programs. For the upcoming year, the share of the real-estate tax is projected to bring in more than $740 million.
Because the case seeks an injunction to transfer surplus budget money into the Amendment 1 fund instead of invalidating existing appropriations, it would not stop any project that the Legislature has already funded. 
"We are hoping the court will correct the Legislature's mistake, and return money to the conservation land-buying fund, because that is what the voters directed," Fuller said. 


About Florida Wildlife Federation
The Florida Wildlife Federation is a private, statewide, non-profit citizens' conservation education organization composed of thousands of concerned Floridians and other citizens from all walks of life who have a common interest in preserving, managing, and improving Florida's fish, wildlife, soil, water, and plant life.

Monday, August 17, 2015

We should fear the fate of Florida's forest paths

Ox Bow Trail, Withlacoochee River
Citrus Springs, Florida
2015-08-04 (124)_HDR

We should fear the fate of Florida's forest paths and their loss to future generations if they are sold to the highest bidders and given over to special interests. These narrow ways through wild lands are foundational to this state's economic future. They lead to more than just the songs of bullfrogs and gator bellows and the staccato echoing screech of the limpkin in a river swamp. They lead us to our forefathers and theirs and the primordial connection between the human animals we are and where we and our ancestors came from. Forest paths take us back. That's why people love Florida and spend $76 billion a year here. They do not come for our malls, crowded asphalt toll ways, polluted waterways, phosphate mines, contaminant-belching power plants or center-pivot irrigation systems. They come for our forest paths to find themselves and discover a sense of their origins.

Who's the real socialist here?

A friend of mine who was a U. S. Marine Corps career officer, Vietnam war vet, helicopter pilot, fighter pilot, and Squadron and Group commander with the rank of Colonel at retirement is a very insightful man who shares his thoughts from time to time with others.  Consider his take on the idea that, "Democrats enjoy giving other people's money away."

It is so gratifying to realize there is still some good sense in this world that otherwise seems to have so little.

*   *   *

Dear MP,

Your premise that Democrats enjoy taking the money of other people is seriously flawed. This is because Democrats recognize the fact that we are a society.  Those who benefit most from our society owe the most to society.  Please consider an example of just who it is taking the money of others. 

Image result for photos of mcdonaldsThe CEO of McDonalds makes $4,000.00 per hour.  He would not be receiving this remarkable wage rate if all the little people employees of McDonalds were not doing their jobs.  He also would not be fairing so well if his business was in the societies of Cuba or North Korea.  His employees and our society allow him to make more in one day than many make in one year.  Further, a recent study/analysis of raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would mean the cost of a $3.99 McDonalds'  burger would have to be raised to $4.17! 

Then consider, because he won't pay a living wage to his "little people" they require government subsidies that become an added burden on the U. S. tax payers.  So, the $4000 per hour CEO is taking the money of the taxpaying public to enrich himself. 

What would happen if he were to voluntarily raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.  Please consider that the price of his burger would go up a whopping 18 cents.  His employees would no longer require government subsidies.  The tax burden they once represented would disappear.  The deficit would be reduced.  They would spend the money they make.  The infusion of money would improve the economy.  The improved economy would cause the jobless rate to go down.  This would further reduce the burden on U. S. taxpayers and serve to further reduce the deficit.  Surely you would not object to this scenario. 

As GHW Bush so rightly claimed, the Reagan trickle down economics you mindlessly support is "Voodoo Economics."  It has had a devastating effect on our economy and our society in general. 

Semper Fi  

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Rick Scott leadership? Can you spell intimidation and retribution?

A reporter commented recently that many folks she speaks with in state government today seem overly afraid of talking to her on the record:

Sandspur's response:
Rick Scott leads, if it can be called that, by overt threat, intimidation and retribution.  In my 40 years of dealing with Tallahassee leadership, both legislative and gubernatorial, I have never sensed such a toxic atmosphere for state workers and those who must depend on the good will of that elected leadership to make a living in the honorable pursuit of public service.  Most are simply afraid their livelihoods and careers will be destroyed if they just say a certain word or appear to be even nanoscopically resistant.  It has become the worst form of a people’s government. 


The objective of today’s political leadership is solely focused on amassing obscene amounts of PAC money in order to purchase Party power in exchange for control of all political decision making and perpetuation of that power.  The “State’s interests” and Public Interests” (which to me are indistinguishable) have been driven from the field and are no longer motivating factors.  The givers of that PAC money (multiple special interests) are now the blatantly arrogant owners of Florida’s bobbing-headed representatives, not the will of The People.         -Sandspur (on the record)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Hernando County and City of Brooksville unite in opposition to SWFWMD’s Secret HQ move as word spreads

At a special meeting on Monday, June 22, 2015, the Brooksville City Council passed a Resolution offering a comprehensive response to SWFWMD’s proposed action to move the district’s headquarters from Hernando County where it had been located for over 50 years to Tampa. 
The next day in an extraordinary show of community collaboration, the same resolution was joined by the Hernando County Commission.  With a detailed refutation of the district’s attempts to keep its actions secret and countering the district’s questionable justification for its intentions, the resolution was unanimously supported by all members of the City Council and County Commission.
(See the full Resolution HERE)
The only way the county and city learned of the district’s secret move was by an “internal” email by the district executive director, Robert Beltran, to his staff on Friday afternoon (May 15).  In the memo, Beltran announced that a resolution was going to be on the board’s agenda the following Tuesday (May 19) which if approved would move the district’s HQ to Tampa effective immediately.  The email was ultimately forwarded to blog writer, Sonny Vergara, former SWFWMD Executive Director, who writes under the name of “Sandspur” and authors the blog SWFWMDmatters.  Vergara sent copies of the email, with commentary, to a state-wide list of email recipients as well as publishing it on his blog.
By the time of the governing board meeting on Tuesday May 19, the Hernando County Commission, the Brooksville City Council and Hernando’s legislative delegation were expressing strong opposition to the now obvious attempt to surreptitiously shift an important component of Hernando’s economy to Hillsborough County.  Hernando County delegation members, Senator Wilton Simpson and Representative Blaise Ingoglia, issued a joint news release saying:
 Simpson and Ingoglia Oppose SWFWMD Proposal
 "Rep. Ingoglia and I have been in contact with SWFWMD's leadership during the last few days and have made our position very clear," said Senator Simpson.    

"The Hernando Legislative Delegation is prepared to explore all available options if our constituents are being adversely affected by changes that will not serve the public interest," stated Rep. Ingoglia. 

Senator Simpson made a point to attend the meeting taking time out from the recent legislative Special Session underway in Tallahassee 200 miles away.  He spoke in opposition to the District’s proposed move.  Also making comments at the meeting were Hernando County Commissioner Diane Rowden, Brooksville City Council member Natalie Kahler and businessman James H. Kimbrough who rushed to the meeting to let board members know their concerns and opposition to the move.
(To see the Governing Board discussion about moving SWFWMD HQ now on YouTube, TAP HERE.  The discussion starts at 10 min. 15 sec. from the beginning.  Use the slider at the bottom of the video to fast forward).
The resolution directs copies be provided to all members of the Southwest Florida water Management District Governing Board, the Governor of the State of Florida, Speaker of the House, President of the Senate, all members of the District’s Legislative Delegation and other delegations that may have interest in this matter, the Pasco County Board of County Commissioners, Lake County Board of County Commissioners, Marion County Board of County Commissioners, Sumter County Board of County Commissioners, Citrus County Board of County Commissioners and Levy County Board of County Commissioners, as well as Councils and Commissions of each of the Municipal City Governments located in those counties.
The district staff completed a study costing over $100,000 with the help of an outside consultant that they claim provides the bases for their recommendation to relocate the HQ to Tampa.  But many are suggesting such a move is so politically sensitive that it is unlikely the idea originated with Robert Beltran, the executive director, and more likely is coming from a board member, perhaps Chairman Michael Babb or high political campaign contributor, Carlos Beruff, with the blessing of Tallahassee, i.e., either DEP Secretary Jon Steverson or even the Governor’s office itself.  At this point, though, it appears all we are left to believe is that it’s by the hand of Robert Beltran alone, an engineer, and Chief of staff David Rathke, a former Tallahassee legislative operative.  Rathke is all too aware that Florida waters can be treacherous and many an ill-advised plan has sunk the boat of its helmsman.
The impact of the move, if it happens, could have far reaching ramifications.  Most of the districts’ headquarters are located in rural communities and have historically had ample agricultural representation on their governing boards.  The move to Tampa is being seen by many as a shift of SWFWMD’s focus away from regional water resource management to more urban-centric issues.  In a state where competition for the last drops of cheap water is high between growing urban centers and agriculture, any shift in focus one way or the other could have long term permanent implications.  Moving the district HQ’s to the big cities and counties would make it easier to effectuate a shift in that direction.  Sensitivities are on edge.  The stakes are huge.