FL Legislators Push Funding for Everglades

TALLAHASSEE, 3/15/02 – Florida’s legislators and conservationists came together in a display of unity to celebrate the Legislature’s commitment to funding for Everglades Restoration.

“Here’s one thing the House and Senate can wholeheartedly agree on — how we’re going to pay for Everglades restoration,” said Rep. Paula Dockery (R-Lakeland), prime sponsor of the House Bill (HB 813). The bill and its Senate companion (SB 684) authorize the Department of Environmental Protection to implement the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan by issuing bonds in amounts of up to $100 million annually beginning in FY 2002. The bill passed the House unanimously late Tuesday, and is on its way to the Senate.

“This funding plan is truly flexible,” Dockery said. “It allows the state to use cash when it’s available, and to sell bonds to raise cash when times are tight.”

Rep. Dockery and Sen. Jim King have been pushing for a permanent funding source for the Everglades since before this year’s session began.

“We are stewards of our national treasure, the Everglades, and with this legislation we commit ourselves to no longer having to scramble every year to find ways to fund its preservation,” said Sen. Jim King (R-Jacksonville), prime sponsor of the Senate bill.

“This is a restoration project of statewide importance,” said Rep. Carlos Lacasa (R-Miami), prime co-sponsor of the House bill. “Having a dedicated funding source for the Everglades sends a message to Floridians and all Americans – Florida cares about the protection of our water resources and wildlife.”

The plan is backed by an unusual coalition that includes the Trust for Public Land, Audubon of Florida, The Nature Conservancy, the Florida Home Builders Association and the Florida Association of Realtors.

“This bill is about more than Everglades restoration,” said Kathy Baughman, government affairs director for the Trust for Public Land’s Florida Office. “It’s about water resources for our residents, it’s about protecting our tourist-based economy, and it’s about the economic health of our state.”

“This is the most important legislation any of us will vote on this legislative session,” said Rep. Ron Greenstein (D-Coconut Creek), prime co-sponsor of the House bill.

“Bonds will allow us to buy land needed for restoration before it is sold for development,” said Eric Draper, policy director for Audubon of Florida.

“This proposal continues the historic commitment initiated by Governor Bush in 1999 to restore the Everglades,” said Bob Bendick, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Florida Chapter. “I think that committing to this sustainable funding for a project with the magnitude of the Everglades restoration is a top environmental priority for Florida. Few projects will require the kind of dedicated, long-term funding this proposal calls for to save this truly unique and important ecosystem.”

“I’m proud to be associated with a bill that provides the long-awaited security for a project whose result will benefit so many future Floridians,” said Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Brooksville), chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

“There are few, if any, more important policy initiatives undertaken by the State of Florida than the restoration of the Everglades,” said Representative J. Dudley Goodlette, R-Naples. “This bill not only makes it possible for Florida to the preservation of our rich national treasure, the Florida Everglades, it also allows that initiative to go forward without placing an undue burden on the state’s taxpayers.”

“This is a funding plan that makes sense,” said Richard Gentry, legislative counsel for the Florida Home Builders Association. “It meets the needs of Everglades restoration without jeopardizing other critical state programs.”

“Realtors across the state don’t just care about housing, they care about Florida’s quality of life, and restoration of the Everglades helps protect what every Floridian loves about our state – our natural resources,” said Gene Adams, government affairs director for the Florida Association of Realtors.

Joining the legislators and conservations outside the Senate Chambers was Harry Dutton, leader of the Alligator Management Section of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Elvis, an American Alligator used in FWC educational programs.

“There are not many things that would get me to share a podium with a gator,” said Sen. King, a well-known Florida State fan. “But restoring the Everglades is important in a state where people, wildlife, and nature live side by side.”