Crist Unveils Environmental Spending Proposals
Unveiling the first in a series of disclosures, Gov. Charlie Crist outlined a $2.1 billion environmental budget request for 2010 that includes $50 million each for scaled back Florida Forever and Everglades restoration programs.
Meeting with citizens during a visit to Rookery Bay National Estuarine Reserve near Naples, Crist said nearly $176 million in federal funds will be used for solar energy projects, school weatherization programs and a host of other energy efficiency projects.
The governor is expected to make similar announcements on education and possibly other parts of the budget before releasing his entire request on Jan. 29. His recommendations come as lawmakers face a budget deficit approaching $3 billion when they meet in March to begin crafting a 2010 budget.
“Florida’s present and future economy depends on the stewardship of our natural resources and our continued efforts to set aside land for water resource protection, recreation and the enjoyment of Floridians and visitors to the Sunshine State,” Crist said in a statement released after his appearance to dedicate a pedestrian bridge at the state-owned refuge in Southwest Florida. “As we continue restoring America’s Everglades and investing in renewable energy, Floridians will gain a cleaner and safer environment that will endure for generations to come.”
Crist’s comments were met with a collective sigh of relief by state environmental groups, representatives of which applauded the governor’s leadership and thanked him for his support. Tight budgets prompted lawmakers in recent years to pull back funding for Florida Forever, which historically sells about $300 million in bonds to purchase sensitive lands.
Last year, lawmakers didn’t fund the program, but did set aside money for Everglades work. Advocates say they’re hoping to return funding to what has been a primary land-buying mechanism for the past 20 years.
“Florida Forever is the cornerstone of Florida environmental protection,” said Janet Bowman, director of legislative policy and strategies for The Nature Conservancy. “Our state will best be able to sustain our economy for the long term with the environmental safeguards that this program provides.”
Crist’s environmental wish list also includes:
$26 million in matching funds for waste water and drinking water programs.
$175 million to clean up underground petroleum tanks and previously contaminated sites.
$11.2 million to repair renovate state park facilities.
$283.4 million for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
$319.5 million for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
Crist’s recommendations are the first step in a process. Lawmakers are charged with assembling the state’s spending blueprint, which last year totaled $66.5 billion budget.
“We know this is just the beginning of another tough budget year. But when the Legislature convenes this spring, we hope it will recognize that Floridians want to be stewards of their natural environment, even in difficult economic times,” said Jeff Danter, Nature Conservancy state director.