Dan Peterson, Executive Director of the Coalition for Property Rights, provides the following detailed analysis of Florida Amendment 1:
Water and Land Conservation – Dedicates funds to acquire and restore Florida conservation and recreation lands.
Funds the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands including wetlands and forests; fish and wildlife habitat; lands protecting water resources and drinking water sources, including the Everglades, and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams; beaches and shores; outdoor recreational lands; working farms and ranches; and historic or geologic sites, by dedicating 33 percent of net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents for 20 years.
Amendment 1 alters SECTION 28. Land Acquisition Trust Fund to include:
a) Effective on July 1 of the year following passage of this amendment by the voters, and for a period of 20 years after that effective date, the Land Acquisition Trust Fund shall receive no less than 33 percent of net revenues derived from the existing excise tax on documents, as defined in the statutes in effect on January 1, 2012, as amended from time to time, or any successor or replacement tax, after the Department of Revenue first deducts a service charge to pay the costs of the collection and enforcement of the excise tax on documents. b) Funds in the Land Acquisition Trust Fund shall be expended only for the following purposes: 1) As provided by law, to finance or refinance: the acquisition and improvement of land, water areas, and related property interests, including conservation easements, and resources for conservation lands including wetlands, forests, and fish and wildlife habitat; wildlife management areas; lands that protect water resources and drinking water sources, including lands protecting the water quality and quantity of rivers, lakes, streams, springsheds, and lands providing recharge for groundwater and aquifer systems; lands in the Everglades Agricultural Area and the Everglades Protection Area, as defined in Article II, Section 7(b); beaches and shores; outdoor recreation lands, including recreational trails, parks, and urban open space; rural landscapes; working farms and ranches; historic or geologic sites; together with management, restoration of natural systems, and the enhancement of public access or recreational enjoyment of conservation lands. 2) To pay the debt service on bonds issued pursuant to Article VII, Section 11(e). c) The moneys deposited into the Land Acquisition Trust Fund, as defined by the statutes in effect on January 1, 2012, shall not be or become commingled with the General Revenue Fund of the state.
IMPACT ON PRIVATE PROPERTY
Amendment One departs From a Historical Philosophical Perspective of Private Property
In the first half of our nation’s history, it was the practice of the government to encourage private ownership through land grants and other such vehicles. This amendment reverses that tradition. It seems to embrace a philosophy found in this quote (a philosophy which is supported by many of the pro-conservation/sustainable development organizations):
“Land…cannot be treated as an ordinary asset, controlled by individuals and subject to the pressures and inefficiencies of the market.
Private land ownership is also a principal instrument of accumulation and concentration of wealth and therefore contributes to social injustice; if unchecked, it may become a major obstacle…
Public control of land use is therefore indispensable to its protection as an asset…”
From the Preamble, UN Conference, Vancouver, Canada, 1976
Amendment One Departs From Our Founding Fathers’ Intent For Private Property
Our Founding Fathers placed safeguards into our Constitution as a hedge or safeguard against government tyranny. As a result, America became an exceptional and unique place on earth by virtue of being founded upon the right of private citizens to own and use property.
Amendment One dangerously opens the door for government to own and control more land. That means less land is owned and control by private property owners. This amendment presents an alternative view to that intended by our founding fathers.
Today, more than 50% of the American west is owned by government. In the state of Utah, 87% of the land is owned and controlled by the federal government. Despite efforts by the state to reclaim their land, the federal government refuses to return it.
Giving government large sums of money to buy land puts Florida on a trajectory similar to Utah. The intent of this amendment is primarily land acquisition for the purpose of conservation.
IMPACT ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT BUDGETS
As the amount of government owned lands increases, two things happen fiscally:
First, the amount of private lands on the tax rolls will be decreased. Therefore, tax revenues will decrease making less funding available for things like law enforcement, first responders, local services, infrastructure maintenance, and local education. Local governments will have to raise property taxes or take the rarely seen step of cutting their budgets.
Second, more taxpayer money will need to be diverted to pay for increased maintenance costs of ever increasing amounts of conservation lands. Currently, the state lacks money to maintain the properties owned by government.
Counties with the most land in government owned conservation lands, have the highest tax rates.
IMPACT ON THE STATE BUDGET
It is the Florida Legislature’s constitutional responsibility to work with the Governor to craft an annual balanced budget to meet the needs of our state. Through the Legislature, all the needs of the state are considered, debated, and approved by elected representatives. This is designed to address in a balanced way, the comprehensive state needs.
Amendment One restricts the Legislature’s ability and flexibility to budget or allocate funding for an array of state-wide critical needs such as transportation, education, affordable housing, and economic development, etc.
The purchase of land by government is a one-time expense. But, the maintenance of government property is a growing, on-going expense to also be remembered. As government ownership of land increases, so maintenance costs increase requiring more employees (and their pensions) , more facilities, and more equipment.
IMPACT ON THE STATE ECONOMY
Nearly one-third of Florida land is used for agriculture. Agriculture, including farming and ranching, is the backbone of our state’s economy providing jobs and produce. Amendment One names both for acquisition. The majority of lands put into conservation make little to no contribution to the economy.
As private land, with its real or potential contribution to our state’s economy, is removed from production, it moves from being a producer of revenue to becoming a user of revenue. Thus, the state’s economy is weakened. Less land in production means our state is less productive and less competitive in the world.
IMPACT ON THE ENVIRONMENT
Today, more than 27% of Florida is already in conservation according to The Florida Natural Areas Inventory. Add lands for government facilities and the amount of land owned by government is more than 30%.
Florida has more land per square mile under government ownership than any other state east of the Mississippi River. The amount of government owned land will be greatly increased if a projected $18 B were to become available for additional land purchases.
Environmentalist groups have plans to purchase millions of additional acres for additional parks, wildlife refuges, wildlife corridors, forests and conservation areas, just to name a few. Amendment One supplies the cash to do so.
Amendment One would be bad for Florida because it is an unneeded and harmful addition to the Florida Constitution. It will reduce the amount of privately owned property and negatively impact local revenues. It also intrudes on the legislature’s fiduciary responsibility to allocate our state’s revenues in the interests of our entire state.
Nearly one-third of our state is owned by government. Approximately another third is in agriculture. Documentary transaction stamps are already used to fund a number or environmental programs. The Florida Forever program continues to receive millions of dollars annually through the legislature to acquire conservation land. A growing economy already allows for more money to be allocated for government land purchases.
A more radical option should be considered. Doc stamps are expensive, adding significantly to the transaction costs of real estate. Why not reduce or eliminate the Doc Stamp tax altogether to help, in no small way, all Floridians to exercise their rights of property ownership?