TALLAHASSEE, FL. (WTXL) - A Senate committee Wednesday approved changes to a number of state trust funds to designate a single pot of money for a new land-and-water constitutional amendment, despite concerns that affordable-housing and transportation programs could face cuts.
The Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee approved a series of bills (SB 576, SB 578, SB 580, SB 582, SB 584, and SB 586) by Chairman Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, that will designate a trust fund within the Department of Environmental Protection to handle money required to be spent on land and water conservation under what is known as Amendment 1.
The amendment requires 33 percent of the proceeds from a real-estate tax to go for land and water projects.
Currently, about 20 percent of the approximately $1.6 billion expected to be raised this year in real-estate documentary stamp tax revenue goes to environmental purposes.
That voter-approved amendment is expected to provide about $757 million for land and water projects in the fiscal year that starts July 1, up from around $470 million in the current budget year.
The increase for environmental uses is expected to require about $100 million from transportation funding that typically comes from the "doc" stamps and another $100 million from affordable housing.
Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, said the increase for land and water projects will require cuts to other areas funded by the documentary-stamp taxes, which also go to economic development and general revenue.
"What we've got to do is we've got to decide, out of the $1.6 billion, which programs are we going to diminish sufficiently to get the full 33 percent of the doc stamp money going for environmental purposes," Hays said. "You can only squeeze that orange and get so many drops of juice out of it and then you just got pulp. … The question is, who gets the largest squeeze?"
Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, and Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, argued the money should come from general revenue allocations rather than affordable housing and transportation.
"So many people rely on what goes into these trust funds to make long-term plans," Soto said. "I believe that we send a message by funding these and holding them harmless, that we still view these two areas, of housing and transportation, as a priority."
Smith said he's been assured by Senate leadership that cuts to affordable housing will be made up from other sources this year. "This bill makes a fundamental change and we don't want to be back here every year fighting to get the housing dollars to remain whole," he said.
Jaimie Ross, president of the Florida Housing Coalition, said the trust-fund change will be "problematic" for people with disabilities, veterans and working families in need of housing.
The bills must still go through the Senate General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, which is chaired by Hays, and the Senate Appropriations Committee.
Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, is working on a similar proposal in the House to create a new trust-fund structure to handle the Amendment 1 money.