Saturday, June 7, 2014

Note from Senator Alan Hays; and a response

After reading SWFWMDmatters post, “Scott using your tax dollars to get re-elected; FCC's Response to budget signing,” Florida Senator Alan Hays sent me a note.  Below is the note, and after that, my response.

(The Senator’s note was sent via his Senate office email and is thus public record, as is my response.)
Here’s the Senator’s note (verbatim):
-----Original Message-----
Sent: Tuesday, June 03, 2014 9:34 PM
To: Emilio Vergara
Subject: RE: Scott using your tax dollars to get re-elected; FCC's Response to budget signing (S)

Senator Alan Hays, DMD
District 11
I received your email and I disagree very strongly with almost everything in it.  I'd invite you to come to Tallahassee and observe the budget process.  I have chaired one of the appropriations sub committees in the Senate for the last four years.  I am the chairman of the Appropriations Sub-Committee for General Government.  My committee oversees the entire DEP budget along with the budget of the Department of Agriculture and the Fish and Wildlife Commisson
I expect you consider me to be a part of the problem, but I am quite proud of the job we in the legislature have done in these four sessions.  While many in the environmental community, like your self, are critical of our results, I stand as a proud Senator who definitely does like the environment and I am not going to quietly be labeled otherwise.  We balanced the Florida budget every year without raising taxes and without going into debt.  As a matter of fact, our State debt has been reduced by more than $3 Billion!!  Contrary to the thinking of many, we do have priorities other than buying land.  Just the budgets for healthcare and education alone, comprise more than 65% of the entire budget!!  Which of those would you suggest we reduce?
I have three questions for you.....1.  How much Florida land is currently owned by governmental agencies for conservation purposes?  2.  How much Florida land do you think the state should own for conservation purposes?  3.  How much money would you have appropriated for environmental purposes in this recently passed budget?
I hope you realize I don't mind a civil discussion of the facts but I do want the entire discussion to be factually based.

D. Alan Hays, DMD
State Senator, District 11


Here's the response (verbatim):

-----Original Message-----
From: Emilio Vergara <>
Sent: Fri, Jun 6, 2014 9:39 am

Subject: RE: Scott using your tax dollars to get re-elected; FCC's Response to budget signing (S)
Dear Senator Hays, 
Thank you for your note and the invitation for me to see the legislative budget process that you’d offer, but I’ve been there and seen it many times.  I was never impressed by how money flows so freely for political rather than public purposes there.  
As you suggest, I’ve tried here to be civil but also direct.  I am offering assertions that you likely do not agree with but I do so anyway in hopes of at least a little success at being persuasive. 
I believe you have personally made some very real and potentially damaging legislative proposals as a state senator; decisions and positions that reflect either a serious lack of knowledge of physical and natural Florida, acceptance of bad advice, or simply a lack of good judgment.  In any case, it is a difficult state of Florida affairs when such judgment finds itself at the levels of Florida’s government you find yourself.   
Here are several examples: 
Example One: Your proposal to change the definition of Ordinary High Water Line as it is defined in state law to demark where state sovereignty ownership ends and private ownership begins.  
You proposed a bill that you said simply clarified the statutory definition when in actuality it would have transferred hundreds of thousands of sensitive wetland and waterfront sovereignty acres to private landowners with no compensation to the public.  Your defense of the bill indicated you had not completed a serious assessment or gained a full understanding of the impact that passage of the bill would have upon the interests of the public you serve.  It would, for example, have disrupted centuries of public use and important public purposes represented by those acres, and handed them to adjacent landowners along with a number of inestimably valuable property rights the new owners did not have before.  Had the bill passed, the public would have been denied the use and purpose of those important acres while greatly expanding the potential use and purpose for the new property owners, gratuitously.  
Your agreement to sponsor and promote such an egregious idea was, respectfully, irresponsible and certainly not something a person who was elected to serve public interests and  “likes” the environment, would find compatible with sincere and effective stewardship of the State’s unique and fragile environmental heritage.  Perhaps you’d care to share the true genesis of the idea with us.   Was it in anyway a broad appeal from many of your constituents?  
Example Two:  Your current insistence that since there are X amount of conservation acres in public ownership, X acres are enough and there is no reason for more.   
This seems to be a conclusion based upon numbers only and a rather dogmatic position perhaps grounded in some ill-advised tea party tenet.  Any true assessment of how much of Florida’s remaining natural environment needs to be protected and preserved must include an accurate understanding of the critical role Florida’s natural environment plays in its economic future.
To answer the question in your note regarding the numbers and to underscore the enormous importance of Florida’s natural character, the State of Florida consists of about 45,650,000 acres of land and water including 825 miles of sandy beaches, 7,700 lakes, 12,650 miles of streams, 1,350 miles of general coastline, 2,276 miles of tidal shoreline, and 8,426 miles of detailed shoreline, according to DEP.  Of this area: 
“… federal agencies manage a little over 4 million acres of conservation lands, the state and water management districts manage approximately 4.9 million acres of conservation lands, and local governments manage about 460,000 acres of conservation lands. Collectively, 9,366,499 acres of public lands are managed for conservation purposes, including some military and school lands that serve conservation purposes, even though their primary purpose is not conservation. In addition, there are 573,551 acres of acquired Conservation Easements.        ( 

Note that the term “managed” does not necessarily mean publically owned by agencies of Florida. 
These numbers represent the “X” you propose is enough.  What the numbers do not tell us is the answer to these questions:  
1.)   Can we afford to say we have enough land conserved and that all remaining natural land in Florida should be available for exploitation and development to the point it will no longer be able to offer the values and benefits that natural conditions provide? 
2.)  Will the loss of all the remaining natural land in Florida and the related values and benefits it cumulatively provides forever change the State’s unique natural character to the extent that the very reasons so many people desire to visit, live, play and/or work here is significantly diminished?  
3.)  Do we know with virtual certainty that if we suspend all further acquisition of environmentally significant lands that we will not be allowing by purposeful design the destruction and loss of, in perpetuity, the State’s most important economic attributes?  
4.)  Since the state has known for several decades that good will and regulations alone are not sufficient to protect Florida’s water and environmental resources, what more effective alternative is there than acquisition of land via fee simple or conservation easement? 
My point is, one cannot look at just numbers and say X acres is enough to conserve.  The more appropriate and critically important question is, have we achieved a valid balance between that which must be preserved of Florida’s natural environment to sustain its global appeal and thus its long term economic viability?  There are many, many studies and reports by water management districts and state agencies which emphatically state additional lands need to be conserved to achieve specified objectives that serve this overarching goal. 
Again, Senator, any support and promotion of the idea that enough of Florida’s environmentally sensitive land has been and will be forever conserved is, frankly, irresponsible and certainly not something a person who “likes” the environment would find compatible with serious and effective stewardship of the State’s unique natural heritage. 
Example Three: Your apparent pride in cutting taxes and contention that doing so is in all ways good government. 
This idea is just too simplistic to be functionally valuable.  Cutting taxes for its own sake is not good government.  It can and does wield indiscriminate and destructive impacts upon many good things the people you represent desire and need and which are fundable under current economic circumstances.
While cutting taxes using triage judgment during a recession is a given and arguably the appropriate thing to do, the tea party doctrine that would starve government out of existence by cutting taxes indiscriminately is a tragically dangerous position.  I’m not saying it’s one you hold but it would appear to be the mindset of the legislature, of which you were and are by your own submission a prominent member, when it perpetrated its tax cutting frenzy upon the State’s environmental protection agencies and particularly the water management districts. 
When you arbitrarily reduced the districts’ taxing capacities, unrealistically limited the sizes of their budgets and effectively took unconstitutional control of their ad valorem taxing authority, you did so without any apparent regard for the impact it would have upon the State’s ability to carry out its constitutional and statutory responsibility to protect the environment.  Now they struggle to find enough funds to do the important work of properly and effectively managing the State’s water resources as well as executing many of the states statutory responsibilities it has delegated to them.  And the legislature, by doing so, has put itself in the position of having to find funding for many projects and programs that historically could have been funded by the districts own ad valorem taxing authority, which is a position the legislature was trying to avoid when it delegated the programs to the districts in the first place. 
I would also venture to say that a majority of Florida citizens do not mind paying a few dollars each year for water resource management and protection and, given the choice, would not mind paying a few dollars more for greater assurances of clean, plentiful water and a healthy natural environment. 
The process of reducing the districts’ ability to do their jobs effectively included the forced and totally unprofessional dismissal by Tallahassee directive of hundreds of scientists and literally thousands of years of scientific institutional knowledge, which was not done to lower any state tax because water districts do not levy a state tax. It was done solely to eviscerate the State’s ability to carry out effective environmental protection that had been statutorily carefully evolved over 50 years by many responsible leaders of both parties.  It was clearly also done at the behest of such special interests as members of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida, the mining industry, big agriculture, electric power generating companies, land developers and others who would stand to benefit by reduced protection for the State’s natural systems.  Your support of all this, Senator, frankly, does not exactly comport with your contention that you “like” the environment. 
Regarding what funding might have been made for the environment this year as opposed to, for example, education and healthcare, if I recall correctly there was a $1.2 billion revenue excess over last year which resulted in a plethora of local projects totaling around $88 million, that the media has reported were not vetted through the normal legislative budgeting process.  Somewhere in that $1,200,000,000 windfall, there certainly could have been more than what was ultimate designated for environmental purposes without impacting what was appropriated for healthcare and education.  It would not have been, as you suggest, a choice between one or the other.  Even if many of the local projects funded are worthwhile, since the water management districts have the legal responsibility, experience and authority for managing and protection water resources, it would have been more appropriate for the Legislature to have provided the $88 million to the districts rather than preempting them and let them do their jobs. 
In any case, the actual amount of funding that might be reasonable for environmental purposes - given the $1.2 billion revenue windfall and the importance of a viable and sustained environment to the future of the state - $500 million would not have been an excessive amount.  As it stands now, you provided $165 million for The Everglades, $30 million for springs restoration and $17.5 million for environmental land purchases for a total of $212.5 million.  In other words, if you would return the funding capacity you have removed from the water management districts over the last 3 years, you could easily add another $200-$300 million to that state amount for the environment and still have the balance you now have for the other priorities you mention. 
Senator, I’m aware you were a sponsor of the so-called Springs Protection Bill, SB 1576, which is something you should surely be proud of.  As you know, the House kicked the opportunity to take significant action to begin repairing Florida’s declining springs to next year when Speaker Weatherford effectively killed any chance the bill had for consideration by the House.  The concern now will be, as Rep. Crisafulli takes the helm, what does he have in mind when he refers to the need to focus on new water policy next session.  It is my sincerest hope that your “definite” like of the environment will allow you to resist further weakening of the State’s capacity and will to protect its extraordinary natural heritage and motivate you to look once again to the extraordinary tools you already have for achieving what the state needs in terms of natural resource management and water availability for the future. 
Senator, you know that Florida’s water and natural resources are in serious peril.  The question is – what are you going to do about it?  More tax cuts, further suppression of Florida’s environmental protection mechanisms, and the continuing the apparent new-normal of prioritizing special interests over public interests will not suffice.  In any case, real and effective action is needed, and quickly.
Thank you for your comments and this opportunity to share a few thoughts. 

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  1. Whew, I think someone got whipped behind the toolshed here!

  2. Geesh Sonny, take it easy on the guy. Don't embarass him with facts after all he's a politian and a tea partier at that, which means he sees the political world just like a sled dog not in the lead, he just follows the __hole he sees all day in front of him.

  3. I like this Letter! Would like to see many more like this one!