Saturday, June 21, 2008

Florida Forever Successor Program Summary

The Florida Forever successor bill has passed the A bill to extend Florida Forever program was passed by the legislature during the 2008 Legislative Session. The following is a summary of its key provisions and changes from the current Florida Forever program. If signed by Governor Crist, the bill becomes effective July 1, 2008. (Click here to view the full bill.) Duration The new Florida Forever program will begin on July 1, 2008, and extends the authority to issue bonds through the year 2020. Bonding Authority The bill continues to authorize Florida Forever for 10 more years at $300 million annually, increasing the total bonding authority for 2000–2020 from $3 billion to $5.3 billion and extending the debt retirement dates to 2040. This results in an average of $300 million each year between now and 2020 because the state already retained $700 million in previous bonding authority, which brings the 20-year total up to $6 billion. In addition, each year the governor and legislature must appropriate debt service to issue new bonds and authorize the spending authority to purchase lands with the revenue generated by the bonds, anticipated to be $300 million a year. By July 1, 2010, the legislature is to evaluate the state’s debt ratio prior to issuing new bond series. By February 1, 2010, the legislature is to complete a study on potential funding sources for the Florida Forever program. Programs and the Allocation of Money Florida Forever funds will be distributed as follows: • 35 percent ($105 million) — To Florida Department of Environmental Protection Division of State Lands to purchase environmentally significant conservation and recreation lands. • 30 percent ($90 million) — Split among the five water management districts to protect Florida’s ground water, surface water and springs, restore ecosystems and provide water supply development. In the former program, the districts received 35 percent ($105 million). In fiscal year 2008-2009, the water management districts will still receive $105 million. • 21 percent ($63 million) — To the Florida Communities Trust in the Department of Community Affairs to provide grants to local governments to acquire lands for parks. This is a reduction in regular annual funding from 22 percent ($66 million). • 3.5 percent ($10.5 million) — To a new “working lands” program that will be administrated by the Department of Agriculture. The working lands program aims to protect working agricultural lands through the use of conservation easements. • 2.5 percent ($7.5 million) — To a new “working waterfronts” program housed within Florida Communities Trust and administrated jointly with the Department of Agriculture. The “working waterfronts” program will protect working and historic commercial properties through the use of conservation easements. The program will be named the “Stan Mayfield Working Waterfronts” program in honor of Rep. Stan Mayfield, the House Natural Resources Council Chairman who shepherded the house version of the bill through the Legislature. • 2 percent ($6 million) — To the Florida Recreation and Development Assistance Program to provide grants to local governments for developing recreational infrastructure. . • 6 percent ($18 million) — Split evenly among the Division of Recreation and Parks, Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Division of Forestry, and Greenways and Trails to purchase greenway corridors and additions and inholdings (privately held parcels within or adjacent to conservation areas). Public Access The bill adds a new definition of public access that includes vessel access made possible by boat ramps and docks when compatible with the conservation and recreation objectives for which the land is managed. The bill also adds further emphasis and funding requirements to agencies to provide for immediate and consistent levels of public recreational access on all lands. Land Management and Imperiled Species Protection The bill increases the funding for the management of lands acquired under Florida Forever by adding a requirement that the current “up to” 1.5 percent of the total funds deposited in the Florida Forever Trust Fund and the Preservation 2000 Trust Fund be revised to “not less than” 1.5 percent in the Trust Funds. Requires more detailed land management planning that includes short- and long-term management goals and measurable objectives to achieve such goals as habitat restoration and improvement, public access and recreation, exotic species management and control, imperiled species management and restoration, and hydrological preservation and restoration. The bill requires state agencies to consider in management plan development the restoration, enhancement, management and repopulation of habitat for imperiled species. Lead managing agencies are authorized to use fees received from public or private entities to offset adverse impacts to imperiled species. Land Selection and Acquisition The bill requires the Division of State Lands to prepare an annual “work plan” that details by certain categories the Florida Forever acquisition goals for the following year. The work plan includes a category highlighting the importance of conservation easements over working lands and a climate change category. It also expands the existing Acquisition and Restoration Council (ARC) from nine to 11 members. Of the new members, one member must be appointed by the Commissioner of Agriculture with a discipline related to agriculture and one member must be appointed by the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission with a discipline related to wildlife management or wildlife ecology. New Provisions to Address Climate Change The new program provides rule-making authority for the governor and cabinet for the use of state lands to assist in climate change mitigation. For instance, it provides for the Department of Environmental Protection to create an inventory of the potential carbon offset value of the state’s conservation lands given changes in land management practices to enhance carbon sequestration. Other The gopher tortoise will be the official “State Tortoise” of Florida.

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