BRADENTON, Fla. - As Florida's gubernatorial campaign heats up, Florida Gov. Rick Scott Monday launched "Let's Keep Florida Beautiful" pledging to provide $1 billion for environmental protection.
Scott, a Republican running for his second term this year, said he would propose new environmental policies for the 2015 legislative session and he would earmark $500 million in funding for alternative water supply and another $500 million for the restoration of springs, if reelected.
He also plans to propose tougher penalties for polluters, and other measures for which details weren't available, such as whether the $1 billion in spending for water-related programs would come from cash or bonding.
Scott's campaign office didn't immediately respond to a request for information.
"Florida's natural beauty is a big reason why this is the best state in the country to call home," Scott said on a statewide tour that started Monday. "We've made record investments in Florida's environment, but there's more work to be done."
Florida, once a leader in protecting environmentally sensitive land and other conservation measures, has seen state funding for such efforts dwindle since 2009 when legislators stopped authorizing $300 million a year in bond financing for the Florida Forever and Everglades Restoration programs.
Some $1.6 billion of the bonds were outstanding at the end of 2013, according to the latest Debt Affordability Report prepared by the Division of Bond Finance
The bonds are secured by a portion of an existing documentary tax that is collected on real estate transactions.
Documentary tax proceeds available for debt service dwindled from a high of $4 billion in 2006 to a low of $686.8 million in 2010 because of the recession and its impact on real estate sales.
Since 2009, however, 95% of the documentary tax proceeds that weren't needed to pay debt service have been diverted to the state's general fund, according to the Florida Water and Land Conservation, a coalition of statewide conservation organizations and citizens.
The coalition has received approval to place a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot that would ask voters to dedicate a portion of the existing documentary stamp tax solely for conservation funding. The tax would fund projects with bond proceeds or on a pay-as-you-go basis.
The amendment "will definitely prevent the Legislature from diverting the [documentary stamp tax] funding," said Will Abberger, the coalition's campaign manager. "That's one of the main intentions of Amendment 1, to ensure that this money can only be spent for land and water conservation."
The initiative, if approved by voters, would also provide funding for the same programs Scott is now recommending, he said.
"We're providing a constitutionally dedicated source of funding that could not be diverted by the Legislature, and would provide stable funding for these needs for the next 20 years, if approved by the voters," Abberger said. "Another way to look at it is Amendment 1 could implement Gov. Scott's program."
The coalition said it has conservatively estimated that the dedicated documentary tax stream would provide more than $5 billion in cash for water and land conservation in Florida over the next 10 years, and $10 billion over its 20-year life without a tax increase.
Amendment 1 also authorizes bonds to be sold and refinanced for the program.