By Elroy John
Well before Florida earned notoriety as the poster child for how not to administer a free election, it was the state’s natural beauty that most indelibly shaped her image within the view of outsiders. And while her pristine beaches remain a chief allure, for true nature lovers the crown jewel of the Sunshine State is the great marshy waterways and wetlands that comprise the Florida Everglades. The “River of Grass,” as the late writer and activist, Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, called it in her treatise about the arterial water system, once flowed freely over a vast region. More than a century of industrialization and development, however, has decimated the land area of the Everglades and wreaked havoc on the system’s complex hydrology, including that of Lake Okeechobee, a major source of clean water for businesses and municipalities throughout South Florida. One might be led to believe that the implications of that fact alone would be enough to spur a herculean response on the part of state leaders. But this is Florida and we do things different. In 2014, voters must take matters into their own hands and pass a constitutional amendment ensuring that environmental preservation is a priority in this state.
The mission to protect and restore Florida’s unique natural beauty is multi-faceted. A major component of that effort is the acquisition and maintenance of conservation areas like those within the Everglades. The state maintains a number of area leases, but in many cases, it has not provided the funds necessary to adequately manage them. In fact, over the last several legislative cycles, a consistent commitment to environmental funding has been non-existent. In 2011 for example, Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-led legislature slashed the budgets of all five of Florida’s water management districts. These entities bear primary responsibility for spearheading conservation and restoration efforts in their respective regions. The result is clear in reports such as the biennial study released by The National Research Council on the progress of Everglades restoration, which noted in its most recent edition that, “…12 years into the [effort], little progress has been made on restoring the hydrology of the historical Everglades ecosystem…”
In response, the state’s environmental community has united behind a constitutional ballot amendment campaign launched by Florida’s Water and Land Legacy in order to “assure that adequate funding is dedicated solely to restoring critical natural areas, like the Everglades, and protecting Florida’s magnificent waters and lands for future generations.” More specifically, the proposed amendment would require that one-third of the state’s annual documentary stamp tax revenues be designated solely for the purposes of restoration and conservation projects. “Doc” stamp revenue has long been a source of funding for environmental projects and the amendment would simply ensure that those funds could not be diverted to other interests. Perhaps most importantly, the measure recognizes the vital role that clean water sources will play in a global environment with increasingly scarce access to natural resources.
To be clear, protecting the environment cannot and should not be solely the responsibility of the state. The federal government must be an equal partner and meet its obligations in that capacity. But we live here and this amendment deserves our support. Because if we don’t step up and create the sense of urgency around this issue that it deserves, we certainly shouldn’t expect a Congress that can’t even agree on what kind of utensils to use in the capitol cafeteria to do so.
Elroy John was president of the Broward Young Democrats from Feb. 2009 to Nov. 2010. A U. S. Army veteran and Florida Atlantic University graduate, Elroy currently works for a non-profit organization that finds housing for homeless veterans.