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.
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.