Sun Sentinel Broward Edition

Suit filed over spending Digest

Three environmen­tal groups say state not spending land-buying funds to buy land

- By David Fleshler Staff writer TAMARAC — Lisa J. Huriash

Environmen­tal groups filed suit Monday over what they said was the Florida Legislatur­e’s massive misappropr­iation of funds intended to buy and protect wilderness.

The Florida Wildlife Federation, St. Johns Riverkeepe­r and Environmen­tal Confederat­ion of Southwest Florida sued over the budget for money accumulate­d under the new land-buying amendment to the Florida Constituti­on called Amendment 1.

Approved in November by 75 percent of voters, the amendment calls for spending one-third of real estate stamp taxes, estimated at about $740 million, to acquire and protect wildlife habitat, water resources and park land. But the budget adopted last week by the Legislatur­e would spend more than $300 million of the money on salaries, vehicles and other expenses not allowed by the amendment, the groups said. Only $88.7 million would to toward land acquisitio­n, according to the lawsuit.

“The constituti­onal amendment is clear,” David Guest, attorney for Earthjusti­ce, the non-profit law firm that drafted the suit, said in a statement. “A third of the tax on real estate deals is to be used to prevent every last inch of Florida land from getting chewed up by developmen­t. But most lawmakers are simply not listening. That’s why we have to go to court.”

Named as defendants were Senate President Andy Gardiner, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and the Florida Legislatur­e.

In a statement, Gardiner said the spending plan “not only meets, but by every measure exceeds the requiremen­ts of Amendment 1,“including supplement­ing the real estate tax money with general revenue funds.

Through a spokesman, Crisafulli said the budget complied with the requiremen­ts of Amendment1.

“The fact that the Legislatur­e received news of the lawsuit from the media reveals much about the plaintiffs’ motivation,” he said. “The Legislatur­e complied with both the spirit and the letter of the Constituti­on, and we look forward to defending against this politicall­y motivated lawsuit.”

The complaint, filed in Circuit Court in Leon County, location of the state capital, says the language of the voter initiative was clear that the money was to go into the Land Acquisitio­n Trust Fund. Furthermor­e, it said, there could be no “doubt about the function of the Land Acquisitio­n Trust Fund. It is a trust that dates back 50 years and it has an unmistakab­le purpose: land acquisitio­n,” the complaint states.

The complaint stated that legislator­s ignored the wishes of voters as they pursued their own political objectives.

“Instead of complying with the mandate of Amendment1­and in defiance of its constituti­onal obligation­s created by that Amendment, the Legislatur­e misappropr­iated over $300 million of Amendment 1 funds, devoting those funds to uses not allowable for the Land Acquisitio­n Trust Fund,” the complaint stated. “At the same time, the Legislatur­e approved tax cuts in excess of $400 million.”

dfleshler@sunsentine­, 954-356-4535

City wants to create water service tax

The cost for water service is likely to rise Jan. 1.

The City Commission is expected to give tentative approval Wednesday to a new 10 percent “water utility tax” to be earmarked for projects such as park improvemen­ts and fire station upgrades.

“The city has significan­t capital needs over the next 20 years,” said Finance Director Mark Mason.

The new tax would raise between $800,000 and a million dollars a year, he said.

Currently, homeowners were seeing a 5.25 percent water and sewer rate adjustment each year, but that will be suspended until at least 2017, city officials said. This new tax is only for water usage.

Mason said 19 of Broward’s 31 cities have similar taxes.

“It’s a positive way to get the job done,” said Vice Mayor Pam Bushnell.

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