Graham, Hanrahan leading push to protect environmentally sensitive land

Published: Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 5:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 4, 2012 at 5:23 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE — Conservation advocates led by former Florida governor and U.S. Sen. Bob Graham and former Gainesville Mayor Pegeen Hanrahan announced a citizens’ petition drive Thursday for a constitutional amendment to dedicate state funding annually for the acquisition and management of critical environmental land.

Dubbed the “Florida Water and Land Legacy” constitutional amendment, the provision — if approved by voters in the 2014 election — would require that one-third of the state’s existing real estate transaction tax be dedicated for the next 20 years to environmental land projects. The move would provide more than $5 billion over its first decade for the conservation initiatives.

“We are now at a turning point,” said Graham, who as governor from 1979 to 1987 backed a number of conservation initiatives, including efforts to save the Florida Everglades. “The question is do we discontinue our efforts at preserving land or continue this long tradition?”

The campaign to collect almost a million signatures is being headed by Hanrahan, who said the group has already organized some 2,000 volunteers to help collect the signatures.

“It’s a grassroots effort,” she said. But she also said the group was likely to use some paid signature gatherers — which are usually necessary in order to collect enough signatures to get a measure on the ballot.

Graham and other amendment advocates said the opportunity is right to dedicate funding for land conservation since the state is on the verge of paying off a long-term environmental bond issue that will free up the so-called documentary stamp tax revenues that can be dedicated to this initiative without raising taxes.

The advocates also said the dedication is necessary to revive Florida’s environmental land-buying program, decimated in recent years by budget cuts. The program, which once had more than $300 million a year, was only funded for $8.5 million this year.

Former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Colleen Castille, who served under former Gov. Jeb Bush, said the amendment would help restore Florida’s program to its place as the top state-level land-buying initiative in the country.

She also noted the past land-buying programs — which included Preservation 2000 and Florida Forever — were bipartisan efforts under both Republican and Democratic governors and helped acquire more than 2 million acres of critical land.

“Conserving Florida’s water and land is a place where both Republicans and Democrats can join together,” Castille said.

But the amendment is far from a done deal.

Graham said the advocates must collect an estimated 1 million signatures from voters by January 2014 to make sure they have the 676,811 validated signatures necessary to place a citizens’ initiative on the general election ballot. It will have to be approved by at least 60 percent to take effect in 2015.

“This is going to be difficult,” Graham said.

The initiative is supported by the state’s major environmental organizations, including the Florida Wildlife Federation, Audubon Florida, the Trust for Public Land, the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, 1000 Friends of Florida, Defenders of Wildlife and a host of other organizations.

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

▲ Return to Top