It’s week three of the 2018 Florida Legislative Session, and we are excited to report to you that funding for Florida Forever is on the right track. Both the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate have now proposed funding bills that would significantly boost land preservation to protect everything from wildlife corridors to local parks.
Senator Rob Bradley’s (R-Fleming Island) SB 370 would replenish the Florida Forever Trust Fund with $100 million annually. This bill has moved swiftly through the legislative process and will likely receive final Senate approval next week.
Also, Senator Bradley, in his environmental appropriations committee budget announcement, proposed an additional one-time $50 million for Florida Forever. That would be $150 million for Florida Forever in the 2018-2019 state budget.
In the House, Representative Matt Caldwell (R-Lehigh Acres) proposed a committee bill (PCB GAC 18-02) that would refocus the Florida Forever program on its central purpose: acquisition of conservation lands. This bill would ensure that every dollar allocated to Florida Forever would go to acquiring environmentally sensitive lands, creating and expanding community parks, and protecting rural lands from development. And it would establish a stable funding schedule for the next 15 years, starting in 2019.
While the funding level proposed by Rep. Ben Albritton (R-Bartow), Chair of the House Environmental Appropriations Committee, is significantly lower than that proposed by the Senate, Florida Forever is better positioned than ever to receive significant funding.
As we know, the real drama begins once the House and Senate meet to reconcile their differing legislation. While the future is by no means certain, this year there’s a real chance that the two chambers will craft a compromise that reflects the Senate’s funding level and the House’s proposed policy. We think that would be the best possible outcome for our beleaguered state land conservation programs, for this year at least.
Is $100 million a year enough for Florida Forever? Not quite. But $100 million to be shared between Florida Forever priorities, local park projects (via the Florida Communities Trust program), and Rural and Family Lands is a massive leap towards rejuvenating Florida’s land conservation legacy.
You can help restore funding to Florida Forever by calling your state senator and representative right now and telling them that you support Florida Forever. Tell them that you will be eagerly anticipating the release of the final budget and will check back with them on this issue when the legislative session is over.
We are still a long way off from declaring victory, but already we have made some serious progress this year. Together, we are making a difference for Florida.