Seize the moment: save Florida Forever
APril 17, 2009
Florida Forever, the state's conservation and recreation lands acquisition program, is in jeopardy.
Current drafts of the state budget include zero dollars for it, and I am terribly concerned the exclusion of funding risks the elimination of this popular and widely successful program forever.
Along with its predecessor, Florida Forever has acquired more than 2.4 million acres of our natural environment. It has created habitats for more than 188 of our most endangered species and saved more than 5,500 acres of Florida's beaches from unabated development.
Florida Forever is vitally important in Hillsborough County because the program works in tandem with the county's Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program (ELAPP), stretching the dollars of both programs through the use of matching funds.
I am ever mindful the state is facing a dramatic and unprecedented budget shortfall; however, it is imperative Florida Forever be saved so Florida's natural wonders can be enjoyed and appreciated by generations to come. After all, our beaches, rivers, bays, estuaries, coral reefs and forests are the jewels that make Florida such a wonderful place to live and play and so attractive to tourists.
Today's economic climate also has created an extraordinary opportunity to purchase additional land for conservation at prices we are unlikely to see again. We must seize this moment.
Floridians agree. A recent poll conducted for the Florida Forever Coalition shows that 81 percent of voters have a positive impression of Florida Forever. Moreover, 67 percent of voters say they support the Legislature maintaining funding at the current level. In the Tampa Bay area, that number rises to 73 percent.
Funding for Florida Forever is generated by the documentary stamp tax on real estate transactions. At the height of the housing boom, the tax generated $4 billion a year. Last year it generated $1 billion. And despite the current housing slump, it's still expected to generate almost $800 million this year and next, which is more than enough to fully fund Florida Forever.
Saving Florida's natural beauty should not simply be a luxury of booming economic times. Florida Forever is a wise, long-term investment in preserving our environment and future.
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