In his opening-day speech, Senate President Joe Negron dashed past the strike-all filed moments earlier in his southern Everglades reservoir bill. But lawmakers shouldn't be fooled. They might want to pump the brakes, crack the hood and take a closer look at this sneaky little amendment.
If I'm reading it right, Negron and Rep. Rob Bradley, who introduced Senate Bill 10, just snatched $3.3 billion from Florida Forever and stowed it in the bonding pot for Negron's restructured Senate Bill 10, now called "Coast-to-Coast Comprehensive Water Resources Program."
What you want to do is look at the new bill. First, check out Line 167-171: "The issuance of water resource protection and development bonds, not to exceed $3.3 billion to finance or refinance the cost of acquisition and improvement of land ..."
Where did that come from? How did $2.4 billion turn into $3.3 billion?
That's the first thing.
So now let's skip down to Lines 232-235: "The issuance of Florida Forever bonds, not to exceed ...."
Here's where $5.3 billion is crossed out in red, and "$2 billion" is written in. There we are, we found our $3.3 billion.
The sentence now reads, "The issuance of Florida Forever bonds, not to exceed $2 billion, to finance or refinance the cost of acquisition and improvement of land, water areas and related property interests and resources ..." It goes on.
How are the citizens of Florida going to feel when they realize Negron raided Florida Forever like Clyde Barrow raided Texas Savings and Loan -- all for a reckless plan that has no federal partner.
Florida Forever and Amendment 1 might have the same DNA, but the sources of their funding make them different animals. Amendment 1 calls for protecting land and water from development using one-third of the funds raised by the state's documentary stamp tax on real-estate transactions.
Where Florida Forever money goes isn't for a Senate president to decide.
It is funding appropriated by the Legislature and distributed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to a number of state agencies and programs to purchase public lands in the form of parks, trails, forests, wildlife management areas and more. All of these lands are held in trust for the citizens of Florida.
It seems to me, before $3.3 billion of Florida Forever money gets dumped into SB 10, the whole Legislature -- not just the Senate president and one of his top lieutenants -- should vote on it. It should be an act separate from SB 10. All Floridians are stakeholders in Florida Forever. All Floridians should have the opportunity to be heard.
But, I'm thinking, what this bill does is broaden SB 10's appeal. Too many senators couldn't see anything in it for them. Negron had to do something to grow its fan base.
Asked in a Tuesday afternoon press conference why the changes in his bill were necessary, Negron said, "We are addressing a water issue that affects Southwest Florida and Southeast Florida. It affects millions of people in Florida, but it’s one of many water issues that are important. I think Senator Bradley's intention is to include other issues that are important to other areas of the state. I think that's perfectly appropriate."
Continued Negron, "No one is saying anymore that we shouldn’t have southern storage and increase southern storage. There’s a disagreement as to where it should be and when it should be. I think by having the focus on water policy statewide, it gives the bill a more comprehensive basis to move forward."
If I were a gambling woman -- oh wait, I am a gambling woman -- I would say Negron is fishing, probably even trading, for votes. This is going to give him more skin in the game.
I'd say his new SB 10 is going to do nice things for water projects in other, selected regions of the state -- for other senators with their hands out -- as a way to bring that 60,000-acre reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee home.
A reservoir that has no federal approval, destroys the lifestyle of thousands of Floridians, would take decades to make operational, cost billions more than first anticipated and won't stop more than 38 percent of Lake Okeechobee discharges.
We're going to gut Florida Forever for a bill that won't -- can't, say the feds -- get out of the starting gate.
You want the best way to deal with Lake Okeechobee discharges? Listen to the real experts. Concentrate on the reservoirs down south we've already got. Look at the possibilities. Look at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Lake Okeechobee Watershed Project. The answer is right there on Slide 25 -- deep injection well. We could have a 70 percent reduction in lake discharges at a cost of $1.47 billion.
Pay the $1.4 billion and get on with it.
I haven't absorbed the whole SB 10 amendment yet. I'm still trying to connect the dots. But I can see enough here already to raise a red flag. Which I hope catches the eye of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources. It will get its first look at the "Coast-to-Coast Comprehensive Water Resources Program" Wednesday morning.
Allison Nielsen, who covered the Negron press conference, contributed to this column.
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: NancyLBSmith