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Land-buying supporters close in on signatures while Putnam, Chamber oppose amendment

Opposition to a proposed land-buying amendment to the state constitution is continuing to emerge as supporters say they are closing in on the number of petition signatures they need.

The amendment proposed by environmental groups for the 2014 general election ballot would steer one-third of the state documentary stamp tax revenue to conservation spending. The amendment would provide $19 billion over 20 years, according to state economists.

The Florida Water and Land Legacy political committee said this week that it had obtained 90 percent of the 910,000 signatures they hope to collect by Feb 1.

"This is going to preserve Florida's natural heritage for future generations," Will Abberger, chairman of the political committee and director of conservation finance at The Trust for Public Land, said Thursday.

This week, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam expressed opposition, joining Republican House members who spoke out in September.

"I've certainly demonstrated my support for buying easements and accomplishing water and wildlife benefits from the use of acquisition programs," Putnam told reporters. "But I'm troubled by writing into the constitution elements of the budget."

Also this week, Florida Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Edie Ousley said her group supports the Florida Forever land-buying program and long-term investments in the environment. But the Chamber also thinks elected officials should deal with the issue.

"While we support the land amendment concept, we oppose putting it into the constitution and tying the hands of our elected representatives who will be forced to put billions of taxpayer dollars into a certain project no matter how necessary," Ousley wrote in an email.

And Randall Holcombe, a Florida State University economics professor and senior fellow with the James Madison Institute, wrote in a newspaper opinion column on Thursday that buying more land is not a responsible or effective way of protecting Florida's environmental resources.

In September,  Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa and House Republican whip, called the amendment a terrible idea. Rep. Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota, and Rep. Matt Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres and chairman of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee, also spoke out against it.

Asked whether he thinks opposition now is emerging to the amendment, Abberger replied, "Not really."

"We are seeing nothing but support right now," Abberger said. "We've collected over 800,000 signatures from throughout the state, from Key West to Pensacola."  

"We are very close to verifying the amendment for the ballot within the next couple of weeks here. We look forward to carrying our message to Florida voters which we think they strongly support. They agree that conserving Florida's water quality and natural resources is good for our economy and for our environment."

Related Research:
* Nov. 19, 2013 Florida's Water and Land Legacy announcement of signatures gathered
* Sept. 26, 2013 Supporters of land-buying amendment win state Supreme Court OK," by The Florida Current
* Sept. 26, 2013 Florida Supreme Court advisory opinion on land-buying amendment (SC 13-659)
* Full text of the Florida Water and Land Conservation Amendment
* May 23, 2013 Complete financial impact analysis
* May 23, 2013 Ballot 75-word financial summary
* May 23, 2013 500-word summary analysis

Reporter Bruce Ritchie can be reached at [email protected].


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