Colson: Why Florida seems a bit like Nepal
The morally impoverished, politically challenged and environmentally benumbed state of Florida is once again standing in the news spotlight like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming Mack truck, this time in the form of a legislature that is deliberately attempting to ignore the will of the electorate when it comes to trying to preserve the state’s natural habitats.
And the worrisome thing is, they’ll probably get away with it, though some may wonder why the rest of the nation should worry about it.
After all, this is a state that very likely is soon to be at least partially submerged by the rising oceans as part of the broad effects of global warming.
One thing I find intriguing is the fact that the Republican Party controls the Florida legislature, as well as the governor’s office.
As just about any nonpartisan observer will concede, it is the Republican Party that spends so much of its political capital denying two looming catastrophes — environmental degradation of our natural lands in Florida and elsewhere, and the rising of the oceans everywhere.
And as part and parcel of that denial, it would appear the Republicans in Florida also are denying another plain truth — that either of the above-mentioned looming catastrophes has the potential to render the state either uninhabitable or unattractive to tourists.
And even partial realization of either of those outcomes, as any economist worth the cost of his or her diploma can tell you, would be a mortal blow to Florida’s economy.
So, in that light, we can watch in amused horror as Florida’s legislature does a bang-up job of making things worse than they already are likely to be.
Some fun, eh?
I can’t help thinking that Florida is a bit like Nepal, where they’ve known for years that they were overdue for a massive earthquake but never could get it together to prepare for it. Last weekend when the 7.8 earthquake hit and killed an estimated 4,000 people or more, all the lack of preparation came home to roost in the form of collapsing homes, buildings and historic temples — with the notable exception of a national museum that recently was shored up to make it earthquake-resistant.
Anyways, back to Florida.
Seems that the voters of the Sunshine State last year approved an amendment to their state constitution setting aside $750 million in real-estate tax proceeds for the preservation of the state’s wildlife habitat.
But the state legislature, as is so often the case, concluded that it knew better than the voters exactly how that money should be used. And the legislature’s use of the money has mainly been to plug holes in the state’s budgets, paying the salaries of public employees or other operational priorities.
The reasoning, according to articles in the New York Times and online, is that Florida already has set aside 5.3 million acres in conservation easements, outright purchases and other methods, and doesn’t need to preserve any more.
This, despite the fact that Amendment 1, the measure passed by the voters last year, expressly named land purchases as the primary purpose of that $750 million funding effort.
Specifically, the voters wanted the state to use the money to buy land owned by the U.S. Sugar Corporation, as a way of cleaning up the waters that flow into the much-abused Everglades from the polluted cesspool known as Lake Okeechobee.
The state, under a former Republican governor, reportedly had started a rather progressive conservation policy to deal with the ailing Everglades back in 1990. Known as Florida Forever, it was a policy aimed at buying up, cleaning up and preserving large tracks of strategically placed land. And that policy apparently was carried forward by none other than “Jebby” Bush, himself a former Florida governor now hoping to become the next U.S. President.
But the Great Recession knocked the props out from under the policy, the legislature took on a decided “pro-business” coloration, and the conservation policy languished until the voters last year decided it needed a cash boost to get things moving again.
But the conservation theme languishes still. Legislators already are using the conservation fund like a cash cow, milking it for all it is worth to pay for state agency operations while critics condemn these diversions as a “shell game” and a kind of “bait and switch” strategy that is thwarting the will of the electorate.
The current Republican governor, Rick Scott, apparently proposed using $100 million of the fund to galvanize the Florida Forever program, but he has yet to actually do anything to make it happen, reportedly because he is afraid to take on the legislature in a political fight.
So the Everglades keep drying up and dying from pollution and other forms of strangulation, legislators bicker publicly while holding out their hands for U.S. Sugar campaign contributions, and nothing gets done to accommodate the voters’ desire to undo damage already done and prevent future depredation of the environment.
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