Florida voters sent a strong message to the Florida Legislature last November by voting to approve Amendment 1 by a resounding 75 to 25 percent margin. The amendment received approximately 4.2 million affirmative votes. As a refresher, Amendment 1, otherwise known as the Florida Water and Land Conservation Initiative, requires Florida’s legislature to use 33 percent of all net documentary tax revenues from real estate transactions (known as “doc stamps”) over the next two decades for the purchase, restoration, improvement, and management of conservation lands in the state.
Amendment 1 required a supermajority of at least 60 percent to pass, as is mandated by Section 5 of Article XI in the Florida Constitution. Importantly, the amendment’s adoption did not increase taxes or tax rates. Rather, it will redirect tax revenues from a specific source, for a specific purpose, over a specific amount of time. One third of tax revenues from doc stamps from fiscal 2015-2016 are estimated to be approximately $650 million. This number is forecast to roughly double by the 20th year of its authority, to about $1.2 billion annually, bringing the estimated cumulative authority of the amendment to about $10 billion.
Florida has had a long history of initiatives designed to accomplish objectives similar to Amendment 1’s. However, all prior programs have been created through legislative mandates. Florida’s Land Acquisition Trust Fund was originally created by Florida’s legislature in 1963. Its intent was designed to fund outdoor recreation and conservation programs, focusing on purchasing land for parks and recreation. It was funded by a sales tax on outdoor equipment and clothing. Five years later, the legislature discontinued the outdoor equipment and clothing sales tax and voted to fund the Trust Fund with the sale of municipal bonds. The bond interest was to be serviced primarily by doc stamp revenue from real estate sales.
Other more ambitious efforts followed. Preservation 2000 was signed into law by Governor Bob Martinez in 1990, which endeavored to place close to 900,000 acres of land under state control. In the ensuing decade, the state spent about $300 million of doc stamp taxes (facilitated by a bond issue) each year on P2000 conservation measures. In 1999, then Governor Jeb Bush replaced P2000 with the Florida Forever Act, which was designed to buy land critical to Florida’s water supply and habitat, and to help the survival of over 500 endangered or threatened species. The Florida Forever program has acquired more than 700,000 acres of land since its inception, for about $2.9 billion. The two laws combined to produce the largest public land acquisition programs in the country, and by the turn of the century, the state had purchased more than 2.5 million acres. This brought Florida’s total conservation acreage to almost 10 million, managed by various state, federal, and local government entities. Land purchased under P2000 and the Florida Forever Act is held in trust for the citizens of Florida, and it is managed by various state agencies, the largest of which are the Division of State Lands, Florida’s Water Management Districts, and the Florida Communities Trust. Submerged acreage managed by various government entities adds another 3.6 million acres to the grand total and, in case you are wondering, Florida’s total non-submerged land mass is just under 35 million acres.
The recession that formally began in 2008 put a large dent in the doc stamp revenues that could be employed to further Florida Forever’s directives. The resulting decline in appropriations for sensitive land acquisition led citizen groups to mobilize to restore a funding source for conservation purposes. This led to Amendment 1.