Thursday, November 5, 2015

Gravestone epitaph of Florida's dismantled natural resource management - "Science-based"

 I am giving a little talk  in The Villages Monday.  Here’s what I'm inclined to say about SSB 552. 

a.    The Legislature is poised to make major changes to state water policy

                               i.    They want to move the needle more toward fulfilling residential and commercial water needs and away from sustaining natural systems, which in their hearts is just a waste of good tax money that could be better spent to grow the interests of special interests who will pay for their re-elections and make them President of the Senate.

                              ii.    SB 552

1.    It is a bill that will create the expectation that conservation lands and efforts to protect natural systems should have a cost benefit ratio where the benefits must outweigh the cost.  Environmental protection and preservation always has a positive bottom line, but not always in dollars.  The extreme fiscal conservative will never acknowledge this.

2.    It is being written by those who proffer no monetary value for natural systems and who will use the resultant poor economic value to further extinguish legitimate environmental management in Florida.

3.    It is counter intuitive that giving the Ag Commissioner role as overseer of agricultural pollution and freeing farmers from regulatory accountability does not give them a free ride.  It is no different from giving a coyote keys to the coop and asking him to protect the chickens from other coyotes … and saying, “We trust you and all your friends will do the right thing.”   ......  BMP’s

4.    Requires self-reporting and data by environmental agencies at all levels that is clearly intended to load the political guns of special interests and make extreme fiscal conservatives like Alan Hayes drool.

5.    It is a bill written by those who see the dismantling of Florida’s natural resource protections as clearing the way for an ever upward-spiraling state gross domestic product, and who could not careless that the resultant environmental losses may be for all time.

6.    It is filled with condescension and empty platitudes for a public starving to hear something positive from a dysfunctional state Government.

7.    Liking anything in this bill is like saying you like a pie filled with arsenic because you like the Oreo Cookie crust.  It will do a great deal more harm than good.

8.    It will write the final epitaph on the gravestone of natural resource management in Florida as we once knew it … "Science-based"

-        Sandspur

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Senator Alan Hayes, R- Umatilla, vying to become president of Lake-Sumter State College. WHAT?

Senator Alan Hayes, R- Umatilla, soon to be out of a legislative job it appears (thank goodness) is vying to become president of Lake-Sumter State College.   

“I have the legislative experience and contacts through the legislature and the entire business community, and I really think I could guide the college to a bright future,” he said. “I feel confident I can win the trust and the appreciation of the faculty.” 
This is a load of you-know-what. 
He or she who feels inclined to believe this load is a fool.  Hayes just wants to do what every ex-elected official of T-Town hopes to do one day as they’re termed out, land a job as president of a community college because they find it "rewarding."  
Yes, very rewarding, as in hundreds of thousands of dollars rewarding
 The Tampa Bay Business Journal: "A recent report from the Florida Office of the Chief Inspector General found that the president of St. Petersburg College had the largest total compensation package, $449,031, out of the five colleges in the Tampa Bay area.  In fact, the base salary, $330,000, is about the same as average total compensation at $350,403."
 What?  How can that be?  How about other community colleges?
 Look at this: 
 Reported by the

Florida college presidents' base salary vs. total compensation

Total compensation
2012-2013 Base Salary
St. Petersburg College
State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota (former president)
Hillsborough Community College
Pasco-Hernando Community College

Alan Hayes is no different from probably dozens of other legislator hacks who have jumped into one of these positions as a reward from acollege board for having “helped” them while in the legislature. 
What will be interesting is how the board treats his application.   The position requires at least a modicum of academic experience.  If they waive it and choose him over other much more qualified candidates, we’ll know the story.
It’s a pathetic story and if it happens, both he and the institution should be ashamed.


Sleepy Creek - just another bait and switch for Frank Stronach?

This op-ed comment was published Sunday, September 13, 2015, by the Gainesville Sun, and here with permission of the author.  Steve Robitaille, is Chairman of the Florida Defenders of the Environment Board of Directors.
Here’s the link to the Sun’s article:
Sleepy Creek is the project formerly known as Adena Springs Ranch which you’ll recall first proposed to pump some 27 million gallons per day directly from the springshed of Silver Springs.   It appears this not-so-community oriented Canadian auto parts billionaire is beginning to show his true stripes.

Sleepy Creek - just another bait and switch for Frank Stronach?

Page all of 3Canadian billionaire Frank Stronach is the master of the bait and switch. Let us learn from his swindle of a $15 million sports stadium from the children of Marion County, so he doesn't use his dishonest tricks to make off with our drinking water too.

When Stronach came to Marion County to raise cattle, and to request 14.6 million gallons of water a day to nourish his cattle, he offered to build a multi-million dollar stadium and athletic complex for North Marion High School. Due to a “misunderstanding,” explained the Stronach Group, the offer is now off the table. The many disappointed persons left in the wake of this development are likely unaware that Stronach’s biography reveals a history of such business shenanigans.

Indeed, this bait-and-switch tactic should be a wake-up call to the Marion County residents whose precious water supply has now been permitted 1.46 million gallons a day, for Stronach’s Sleepy Creek cattle operation. They may also be unaware that his “exclusive” golf club has been permitted 278,000 gallons a day, 3,300 times more than his neighbors.

Stronach’s Florida cattle operation is not his first “hobby” investment, nor is it the first one that promises to make him wealthier, while leaving those in his path holding the bag. A 2009 Washington Post story recounts how hobbyist entrepreneur Stronach managed to scuttle his investor’s money while living the life of Riley. Wanting to add horse-racing to his personal entertainment dossier, Stronach “bought Gulfstream Park in Florida for $90 million, demolished it and spent $240 million to build a new facility that most fans regard as inferior to the old one.”

Not to be out “Trumped” by other members of the billionaires club, the Post adds that in order to add more stabling, “Stronach decided to build the Taj Mahal of stable areas, Palm Meadows, at a cost in the vicinity of $100 million — an investment that returns no revenue.”

Shareholders were infuriated. One of those investors, Farallon Capital Management of San Francisco, protested that MI Development was “pursuing an investment [to please] Frank Stronach.” As reported in the Post story, using a metaphor that should sound a note of caution to Floridians whose water Stronach wants to suck up at historic rates, Magna Entertainment was a “giant sinkhole.”

And down into what sinkhole were Stronach’s personal profits disappearing? According to investigators looking into the matter who were quoted in a Swiss newspaper, they resurfaced, like a bubbling Florida spring, into the tax sheltered vaults of Zug, Switzerland, where other folks with deep pockets and clever accountants, say like tennis star Boris Becker, manage to avoid paying taxes back home. The story referred to Stronach as a “pseudo resident.”

Magna, the auto parts giant he founded, decided its CEO was costing them more than he was worth. As reported by the Canadian weekly news magazine Maclean's in May 2014, Magna outfitted its boss in a $52 million dollar parachute of consultant fees and bonuses, “772 times the median household income.”

Florida Defenders’ record of protecting the Ocklawaha from ecological disaster is well known. The infamous Cross Florida Barge Canal, a boondoggle of colossal proportions, was aided and abetted by a pantheon of pork-chop politicians and President Lyndon B. Johnson, who broke ground for the canal in Palatka with a blast of dynamite. Two ugly stubs remain of the canal, as well as the Rodman “pool” of water coveted by bass fishermen.

FDE finds it unacceptable that one of the nation’s most exotic and pristine rivers has not run free for over 40 years. If Richard Nixon, a Republican president, had the good sense to decommission the canal and conserve both the river and taxpayer dollars, there is some hope the Scott administration will remove the Rodman dam before it requires expensive repair and free the river in the process.

Silver Springs, Florida
 Photo by Emilio Vergara, Skyshadow Photography

Even if we accept there was a time when barge canals and dams resulted from a lack of solid science and ecological awareness, there is little excuse for the recent decision by administrative law judge, Gary Early, to permit Stronach’s Sleepy Creek cattle operation 1.46 million gallons of water a day, when aquifer recharge of Silver Springs and the Ocklawaha watershed is 30 percent below normal. How can it be in the “public interest,” to use Judge Early’s convoluted interpretation of this term, to provide water to 9,500 cattle who will defecate 158 million pounds of manure, produce 11 million gallons of urine, thus adding 700,000 pounds of nitrogen to a watershed already reeling from nitrates that have increased 20-fold over healthy levels?

So we now know what the Stronach Group is not going to leave behind. There will be no athletic complex for North Marion High School, and a whole lot less water in the ground and fewer fish in the Ocklawaha. We also know what Stronach and his Sleepy Creek operation will leave behind.

Thanks to Gov. Rick Scott’s business-friendly administration and the mass firing of veteran water district personnel, we will have cow patties galore. Like the poor investors in Scott and Stronach’s business enterprises, we’ll all be forced, in a manner of speaking, to “step in it.”

We can only hope that Stronach’s pending water permit is denied and that Gov. Scott joins Richard Nixon by supporting a free Ocklawaha as a lasting legacy to the people of North Florida.

— Steve Robitaille is board president of Florida Defenders of the Environment. He lives in Gainesville.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Letter to Sen. Simpson - Relocation of SWFWMD's Headquarters to Tampa

Dear Senator Simpson,

I have neglected to let you know how much I/we appreciate your and Representative Blaise Ingoglia’s personal interest and support for our efforts to shine a bright light on the attempts of the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s governing board to move its HQ to Tampa.  I apologize. Your visibility and personal presence, in particular, was crucial to bringing the point home to the community of folks north of Tampa, the district’s governing board, other legislators who could be affected and hopefully even the governor.  It was an impressive show of multi-governmental and private sector collaboration that may be unprecedented.

Nevertheless, I am not confident our efforts had any effect on what district board members have already accomplished.  Short only of taking the HQ name from Brooksville/Hernando County, all significant HQ functions and staff have already been relocated to Tampa.  I truly believe they naively and arrogantly think they have outfoxed us, you and Representative Ingoglia.  As time passes, it is becoming increasingly apparent their stated reasons for relocation of the staff to Tampa has little compelling validity.  If one considers the cost for the relocations to date, as well as the $100,000-plus study to support the contention and the eventual cost they’ll certainly incur to build additional offices to house them, it is a very costly ruse.  All because they simply don’t want to drive to Brooksville and because they have no clue or care why it was placed outside the urban core of Tampa Bay in the first place.  All rural counties and cities, and especially the agricultural community, should be very nervous about their collective “water” futures.

 Hopefully the legislature will see to provide the district with guidance that will successfully encourage them to reverse this unneeded and ill-advised exercise which is having and will continue to have such an economically significant impact north of Tampa, and upon the City of Brooksville and Hernando County in particular.

Again, your involvement and support is sincerely appreciated.

 Best regards,

Emilio "Sonny" Vergara

Friday, September 11, 2015

Rick Scott is creating a chaotic resource management nightmare for this state, with no end in sight

Several months back, Jon Steverson, the Scott-chosen Exec Dir. of NWFWMD was removed and made the Scott-appointed Secretary of DEP.  The resultant empty seat there was just filled by a fellow named Brett Cyphers, the Scott-chosen Assistant ED to Steverson at NWFWMD since 2012.

Recently, the Scott-chosen SJRWMD Exec. Dir., Hans Tanzler, resigned in a huff and was replaced by the earlier Scott-chosen director of the Suwannee River District, Ann Shortelle. 

Just last Thursday, the former Scott-chosen director of SWFWMD, Blake Guillory, who was later chosen by Scott to take over the SFWMD because Scott had Fired the then existing Scott-chosen SFWMD ED, Melissa Meeker, has now been fired because he supported a small but critically needed rise in taxes, and replaced by the Governor’s former legal Counsel, Peter Antonacci. 

You’ll remember he was the lawyer who told the former FDLE guy behind closed doors that all the Cabinet members had secretly agreed he was to be fired, which resulted in a Sunshine Law violation by the governor, Adam Putnam and Pam Bondi, and which was settled without attributing guilt recently for a pile of public tax dollars. 

Antonacci’s resource management experience would measure at less than zero, were that even possible.

Now if you were a a voting member of such a large state as this, and your CEO was making such, frankly, dumbass decisions like putting his incompetent friends and political supporters in and out of management positions of agencies critically important for the safety and welfare of millions of Florida residents and a globally unique natural environment with such chaotic frequency that it was resulting in the obvious decay of the ability of those agencies to do their jobs, wouldn’t you assume he was so incompetent that getting rid of him would be central to the survival of the state?

Do you think Scott knows and, if so, does he care what he’s doing to Florida?  The frightening thing for me is this. I believe he does know what he’s doing to this state and he truly doesn’t care.  This was his game plan from the beginning.  And he's not through.


Water district chief out, replaced by Scott’s ex-general counsel


Thursday, September 10, 2015

Crystal River, Florida
2015-08-21 (26)
The WMD’s have become a sham.  The only reason the governing boards exist is to keep the tax levy, or what’s left of it, intact.  Water management is now an ingrained part of the Tallahassee political hierarchy and has little, very little, to do with responsible resource management.


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.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

"Florida lawmakers ignoring the clear message sent by voters" - Mark Woods

This letter is published with the permission of the author, Mark Woods, Metro columnist for the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, Florida, and winner of the Eugene C. Pullman Fellowship for Editorial Writing.  Woods expertly captures the growing frustration of voters who sent a clear message to Tallahassee last November with the overwhelming approval of Amendment 1, only to see that message being summarily, if not cynically, ignored.

Dear Florida lawmakers,

Florida voters made their wishes quite clear last November. Or so it seemed.

We have listened to quite a few of you talk about the importance of our drinking water, springs, beaches, wetlands and rivers. But we've come to realize that you often don't put your money — which is actually our money — where your mouth is.

Mark Woods
So after repeated cutting and gutting of funding for the protection and preservation of our water and land, Floridians took things into their own hands. Enough signatures were gathered to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot. The amendment wouldn't raise taxes. For 20 years, it would take one third of revenue from generated from house and land sales — a small fraction of the overall state budget — and devote it to some of what kept getting cut.

Amendment 1 didn't just pass by the necessary 60 percent.

In an election when Floridians weren't exactly thrilled with a lot of what they saw on the ballot — starting with Rick Scott vs. Charlie Crist for governor — Amendment 1 passed in a rout. It was supported in red counties and blue counties, receiving 75 percent of the vote and winning by a larger margin than any statewide politician.

So what happened when all of you returned to Tallahassee for the next session?

With humility and respect for the people who sent you to Tallahassee, you started to build a budget by first taking the estimated $730 million in Amendment 1 money that will be collected in the next fiscal year and devoting it to Amendment 1 issues.

I am, of course, joking.

You and the governor have basically ignored the will of the voters and, by doing so, your oath to uphold the state Constitution.

Some of you walked out with three days left in the session. You are still haggling over the budget in a special session. And while much of the attention has been on health care and federal money, there still is the matter of what Floridians instructed you to do with some state money.

So far you have devoted only a small fraction of Amendment 1 money to its intended use. Yes, to a certain degree that use is open to some debate. But when you've gotten around to having this debate, it often has led to what Clay Henderson called "the Lottery two-step."

Henderson, an Orlando lawyer and former president of the Florida Audubon Society, helped write the amendment. He was referring to what your predecessors did with the Florida Lottery money. It was supposed to enhance education funding. Instead lawmakers diverted education money to other parts of the budget and replaced it with Lottery money. Now you're doing the same dance with Amendment 1.

This issue isn't a liberal or conservative one. When I went back and read some of what was written before the vote, one of the strongest pieces was an op-ed by Allison DeFoor.

DeFoor is a seventh-generation Floridian. He served in the administration of Jeb Bush as "Everglades Czar." He was a sheriff and circuit court judge in Monroe County. He was a Republican nominee for lieutenant governor in 1990. In his op-ed that ran in newspapers around the state, he argued why conservatives should support Amendment 1.

"I am not a liberal, just a Florida cracker," he began. "That is why I am voting for Amendment 1."

He told people to think about the algae blooms on the St. Johns River, the choking of springs, the state of Indian River Lagoon, the restoration of Everglades. He talked about the economic value in our natural assets. And he talked about Floridians taking control of the future.

"We cannot count on others — including lawmakers — to do it for us," he wrote. "Funding in this area has fallen off the cliff in recent years. Over the 20 years of the life of this amendment, Florida’s population will grow to 30 million. We act now, or we act never."

We acted then. Now it's up to you, our elected leaders.

DeFoor recently moved to Northeast Florida. He has become one of the citizen members of the paper's editorial board. He's overseas now. But when I sent him an email, he responded quickly. He remains optimistic.

"Any 20-year venture will take a little bit to settle in, this one included," he wrote. "The voters spoke so strongly that I believe that it will correct any drift over time."

To illustrate just how strongly the voters spoke, he asked Florida's Water and Land Legacy to send me a breakdown of statewide voting. Included was a map. The areas where the amendment had 60 percent support were colored in shades of green. Nearly the entire map was green.

"The map says a lot," DeFoor wrote.

Yes, it does. Now the question is whether you, the politicians currently clustered in a dot representing our state capital, will actually listen to what it says.


(904) 359-4212


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Former Governor Bob Graham: If we fail the Everglades, we fail Florida's future