United States: Florida's Amendment 1: Water And Land Conservation Funding Passed By Voters

The 20-Year Program Will Generate Almost $20 Billion in Funding
Last Updated: November 10 2014
Article by Clay Henderson

Clay Henderson is Senior Counsel in our Orlando office.

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • The 20-year program will generate almost $20 billion in funding showing that Florida voters understand the importance of water and land conservation for the state's environment and economy.
  • The amendment not only dedicates money to land acquisition, it also authorizes funds for environmental restoration, recreation, historic preservation, land management and improvement as well as protection of water quality.
  • The program is the largest voter-approved conservation measure ever ratified in the United States.

Florida's Water and Land Conservation Initiative that dedicates billions of dollars to conservation over the next 20 years was ratified by the voters by a wide margin. Voters in all parts of the state and across the political spectrum approved the measure.

Amendment 1 received 75 percent of the vote and led all the ballot with over 4 million votes cast for approval. It was the only constitutional amendment to be ratified by the voters. As of 2006, Florida law requires 60 percent approval for ratification of an amendment.

The amendment dedicates one-third of the existing documentary stamp tax for land and water conservation. The Legislature estimates the amendment will bring in over $600 million in 2015 and close to $20 billion during the 20-year life span of the program.

The initiative was a reaction to the lack of funding for land conservation over the last four years. Between 1991-2010, the Legislature appropriated $300 million each year for conservation, however, in 2014 lawmakers appropriated only $15 million.

The Amendment Just Creates a Funding Source – No New Legislation Is Needed

Constitutional amendments proposed by citizens through the initiative process must also pass review by the Florida Supreme Court which approved it for the ballot in 2013. In their briefs to the court, the sponsors said that the measure was "self executing" – meaning that no new legislation is required to implement the amendment. The amendment simply dedicates a funding source that can be applied to existing programs such as Florida Forever, the sponsors told the court.

Opponents of the amendment argued that the initiative ties the hands of the Legislature in the appropriations process. Indeed, one historic aspect of the initiative is that it is the first to dedicate a significant sum of money to a specific program. Earlier amendments created trust funds or dedicated a relatively small amount of funds.

Existing Programs Will Be Amended to Utilize the Increased Funding

Lawmakers are expected to amend existing programs in order to fully take advantage of the new dedicated funding because the scope of the amendment is larger than existing programs. The amendment not only dedicates money to land acquisition, it also authorizes funds for the following:

  • environmental restoration
  • recreation
  • historic preservation
  • land management
  • improvement and protection of water quality

Water projects are expected to take center stage as the Legislature contemplates how to spend this dedicated revenue. Lawmakers already appropriate millions to Everglades Restoration and that can continue under the specific terms of the amendment. In 2013, the Florida Senate unanimously passed a bill to restore springs and its sponsor has already indicated that the amendment can be used to fund programs authorized in the bill. Other legislators have discussed a program to protect the Indian River Lagoon, while others have singled out the St. Johns River for special restoration.

A "Lasting Legacy" Benefitting Florida's Environment and Economy

The sponsors of the amendment issued the following statement after the measure passed:

Passage of Amendment 1, the Water and Land Conservation Amendment, is a historic victory for protection of Florida's drinking water sources, the water quality of our rivers, lakes, and springs, and conservation of our state's wildlife habitat, beaches, and natural areas. Floridians overwhelmingly voted Yes on Amendment 1, clearly showing that Florida voters understand the importance of water and land conservation to our state's environment and to its economy.

Sponsors of the amendment called it a "lasting legacy" in the sense that its programs will have a lasting affect. For the next 20 years, Amendment 1 provides Florida the opportunity to lead the nation in land conservation, environmental restoration and cleanup of water pollution.

Holland & Knight lawyers drafted Florida Amendment 1 and shepherded the review and approval process by the Florida Supreme Court to get the amendment on the ballot. These efforts were a pro bono project for the firm.   

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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