With the Indian River Lagoon and other waters dying, and state government balking at buying more land to buffer them, Florida voters sent a clear message to Tallahassee on Election Day.
Three of every four voters OK’d Amendment 1, also called the Florida Water and Land Legacy Amendment.
“I think that’s wonderful, and I hope it’s interpreted as a statement that there are people that care about the environment,” said Vince Lamb, a board member of the nonprofit Brevard Nature Alliance.
The new measure will use a third of the state’s net revenues from the excise tax on documents to conserve lands and restore waters such as the lagoon. It is expected to raise about $10 billion and sunset in 2035, setting aside less than 1 percent of the state budget, starting with $625 million in 2015.
The money will protect hundreds of thousands of acres and fill the funding gap of the Florida Forever land-buying program, advocates say.
State funding for the Florida Forever land-buying program, which historically received $300 million a year, had been cut drastically since 2008, dipping below an average of $15 million annually under Gov. Rick Scott. Like the new proposal, that money came from doc stamp revenues, which plummeted during the housing downturn.
Environmental measures have been popular in Brevard.
By wide margins, voters OK’d local property taxes in 1990 and again in 2004 to buy and manage green space. The county used the tax money to finance the purchase of 24,000 acres to protect in perpetuity, but has struggled in recent years to come up with the money to maintain those lands within its Environmentally Endangered Lands (EEL) program.
The additional doc stamp money now unleashed by Amendment 1 could help with that, advocates say.
Lamb would like to see more land set aside to expand the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge and more areas for stormwater retention to guard the lagoon from runoff.
He and other conservationists say Brevard also could use the additional state money to buy lands that would secure green space corridors linking large conservation areas already in public ownership.
Biologists say healthy ecosystems require large swaths of contiguous lands, so that species avoid inbreeding and can maintain genetic diversity.
Amendment 1 will dedicate 33 percent of net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents for 20 years to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund that counties and cities can tap for matching money.
Florida’s documentary stamp tax is 70 cents per $100 on deeds. The tax is also levied at 35 cents per $100 on bonds, mortgages, liens and notes and other written obligations to pay.
The money goes into the state’s general fund and trust funds such as the State Housing Trust Fund, State Transportation Trust Fund and Land Acquisition Trust Fund.
The Legislature would have to determine which programs that get documentary stamp revenues might have to be reduced.
Conservation groups formed Florida’s Water and Land Legacy to campaign for the amendment. The coalition included The Trust for Public Land, Audubon Florida, Florida Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club and others.
Brevardians pounded the pavement to collect the needed signatures, many during rallies on the lagoon’s behalf, ultimately gathering about one million signatures.
The League of Women Voters of Florida, in particular, campaigned hard for the amendment.
“We’re all still ecstatic,” said Clay Henderson, an attorney with Holland & Knight in Orlando who helped write the amendment and will work on the enabling legislation.
“I honestly believe that there is interest in springs and estuaries,” Henserson said of where the money is likely to be spent. “Right now there is no estuary that needs more support than the Indian River Lagoon.”
Amendment 1 statewide results
Yes — 4,231,426 votes (74.95 percent)
No — 1,414,208 votes (25.05 percent)
Amendment 1 Brevard results
Yes: 160,747 (74.2 percent)
No: 55,897 (25.8 percent)
Brevard County Environmentally Endangered Lands program by the numbers
62 miles of trails
120 miles of fire lines
Source: Brevard County EEL program