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The Sunshine Economy

Sunshine Economy: Protecting Florida's Environment At $800M A Year (For 20 Years)

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More than 4 million voters approved Amendment 1 in the November 2014 election. The measure received an overwhelming 75 percent "yes" vote.

That vote unleashed hundred of millions of dollars this year and billions of dollars over the next 20 years that have to be spent on acquiring and improving Florida lands. The amendment uses fewer than 150 words to describe the types of projects the money has to be spent on. That section is highlighted in blue below.

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An anhinga on it's namesake trail in the Everglades National Park.

    

Now it's up to Florida lawmakers to decide what qualifies for the money. Should beach restoration be included? What about land for biking trails? How about money to pay for whole neighborhoods to get off septic tanks and onto sewer systems?

It's a mad dash with the Florida legislative session approaching quickly and lasting only two months.

There is no shortage of ideas. The Senate's Committee on Environmental Preservation and Conservation has received more than 4,000 online public comments on how to spend the money. 

Florida has been buying land for conservation and recreation purposes since 1963. The first program was paid for by a tax on outdoor clothing and gear, including swimsuits. (Yes, the Sunshine State paid for public land purchases with bikinis.)

Amendment 1 guarantees a third of the state's share of real estate documentary tax stamp revenues will go toward the environment.

The state owns a lot of land already. Including federal and local government land ownership and management, 30 percent of Florida is taken. Here are Florida's current public lands, including state and federally owned and managed lands.

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Everglades National Park hosts one million visitors annually, many come to see the famed River of Grass and mingle with the alligators.

Peter Frederick served for six years on the state's Acquisition and Restoration Council. The 10-member panel is responsible for making recommendations for what land the state should buy.

During Frederick's time, the group did not have much money to use thanks to the Great Recession and budget cuts. He thinks the council will play an important role in helping decide the fate of some of the Amendment 1 dollars, at least those going toward land purchases.

The council also reviews land management strategies for the properties in the state's portfolio, and he worries about the cost of upkeep.

Frederick says, "We are reaching a breaking point. There will be a point at which we can no longer do the prescribed fire or water management."

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In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.