In December 2012, the Florida Cabinet authorized the pursuit of $8 million to buy land for conservation. Certain special interest groups wanted as much as $300 million. More than 33% of Florida is already in government ownership (Federal, State, and local), set aside for conservation.
Enormous amounts of tax payer money have been spent to buy land for conservation. Enormous amounts of taxpayer dollars are being spent to maintain lands under conservation.
Florida faces difficult budgetary decision again this year in areas such as Medicaid, education, children, job creation and the disabled. Two bills have been offered to address the expansion of government owned land for conservation. The bills titled “Purchase of Land by a Government Entity” are SB 584 – sponsored by Senator Alan Hays and HB 901 sponsored by Representative Charles Stone. Senate Bill 584 and House Bill 901 are identical bills. They call for any government entity to do four things before they use taxpayer money to buy more land out of the private sector for “conservation.” Those four things are:
1. Produce a current and accurate inventory of government conservation land already owned.
2. Have money in the current budget to maintain the land already owned.
3. Produce an estimate of the future costs of maintaining the proposed purchase.
4. For each acre purchased from the private sector by government, sell an acre back to the private sector.
According to Dan Peterson, Executive Director of PropertyRights.com, “These bills simply say, let’s consider the priorities of state spending and focus on people. Before, we use tax payer dollars to buy and maintain more land for conservation, let’s consider our current costs and future potential costs.” In an email Peterson provided the following information about the bills:
SB 584/HB 901 has three objectives:
1. Being good stewards of the land we own.
2. Being fiscally responsible and knowledgeable before we buy more land for conservation.
3. Insuring we keep the majority of Florida’s land under the ownership and control of private citizens who will care for and make the best use of land.
2. What do these bills do?
They require four things to be done before any purchase by government of land to be set aside for conservation:
a. It requires an accurate and current inventory be made public and,
b. It requires money to be in the current budget to maintain the land currently owned and,
c. It requires and analysis be made public estimating the on-going cost of maintenance
d. It requires the sale of land back to the private sector in an amount equal to the land to be purchased.
Why is the sale back to the private sector included?
According to Peterson, “As to the fourth point, private owners (for the most part) are better stewards of their property that government. They are more motivated to keep it up and improve its value. Also, every acre in government ownership is a non-revenue generating acre. Here’s is a way to generate more taxpayers without generating more taxes. The more land in private ownership, the more revenue is available to care for the needs of people.”
Peterson states these bills are not anti-conservation. “They are pro-stewardship of land and money. These bills do not prohibit additional purchases. It simply says, “Let’s consider what we currently have and ask if we can afford more?”, states Peterson.