Florida Conservation Coalition Response to Governor’s Budget Signing

By signing the FY 2015 budget Governor Rick Scott may attempt to take credit for providing historic levels of funding for Florida’s springs and the Everglades.  In doing so, however, he will ignore the massive budget cuts to water protection agencies and land conservation projects brought on by his administration and the Legislature.

Governor Scott was elected on the idea of reducing the size and cost of government. This focus has been evident since the Governor signed his first budget in 2011, in which he vetoed the entire $305 million annual appropriation for Florida Forever and bragged of cutting $700 million more from Florida’s five water management districts.

Cuts to the Suwanee River and Northwest Florida Water Management District budgets resulted in those two agencies postponing setting minimum flows for springs. Cuts to the South Florida Water Management District, exceeding $200 million, caused the agency to reconsider investments in the C-43 and C-44 reservoirs and other Everglades clean-up work. These are the very same projects that the current administration and Legislature are now funding in this year’s budget, after several years of needless delay.

Unfortunately, in light of these actions, claims that our freshwater springs and the renowned Everglades are being saved by this budget may appropriately be viewed as election year efforts to make voters forget the effects that previous budget cuts and staff reductions have had on the programs and agencies responsible for the health of our waters and protection of our natural lands.

To judge the current administration’s commitment to environmental protection, recent spending claims have to be weighed against past actions: Florida’s FY 2008 budget included $200 million for the Everglades and the Northern Everglades, in addition to the more than $100 million spent that year on Everglades projects by the South Florida Water Management District from its own budget. Additionally, during the previous administration, the South Florida Water Management District spent more than $500 million in one year buying land that will be used in a program to expand water treatment and storage. 

Along with cutting water management district budgets, Governor Scott has consistently refused to propose anything but minimal funding for the state’s land acquisition programs which include projects to protect Florida’s springs and buy at-risk wetlands and panther habitat in the Everglades. Previously, in a single year, the Florida Forever program spent approximately $70 million on protecting land that recharges Silver Springs, more than the entire statewide appropriation for Florida Forever this year.

Prior to 2011, thirty percent of Florida Forever program funds were allocated to the water management districts to purchase land to recharge water supplies, store and treat floodwaters and protect our most vulnerable springs and rivers.  This year, however, Florida Forever allocations to water management districts to protect water resources were not included in the Governor’s budget.  Instead the districts were allocated $20 million in previously appropriated funds for land conservation.

Compared to previous budgets by this administration, this one shows modest increases in conservation funding. That said, it pales in comparison to the funding and commitments to Florida’s water and land resources of past administrations.