Supporters of Florida Forever, the state’s land conservation program, have launched an effort to convince the Legislature to restart bond financing so that the state can resume purchasing land while real estate prices are low.

Florida lawmakers earlier this year did not authorize new funding for debt service because of huge declines in revenues supporting the state budget. Debt service on Florida Forever bonds is paid through a portion of the tax collected on real estate transfers known as the documentary stamp tax, which has plummeted in the current recession along with other state taxes and fees.

The state’s land-purchase bond program had been in existence at largely the same level for 19 years.

“This interruption in [the program’s] funding undermines Florida’s ability to save the most important park and conservation lands for current and future citizens,” the Florida Forever Coalition said in a release.

The organization is hoping to convince lawmakers in their regular session early next year to appropriate $15 million in the fiscal 2011 budget, which would support the sale of approximately $300 million of new revenue bonds for the program.

The Florida Forever Coalition is composed of more than 125 groups that support Florida Forever, which is used by the state to purchase lands for environmental, recreational, and agricultural purposes as well as to protect the state’s groundwater drinking supply.

Florida Forever bonds are rated A-minus by Fitch Ratings, A1 by Moody’s Investors Service, and AA-minus by Standard & Poor’s. Florida’s environmental bond programs had approximately $2.7 billion of debt outstanding at the end of fiscal 2008.

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