FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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.
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.