A lawsuit was filed in Leon County this week accusing the state of Florida of ignoring a constitutional amendment and misappropriating funds that were supposed to be earmarked for land conservation. By a 75 percent vote, voters approved Amendment 1 to the Florida Constitution. The amendment is supposed to ensure the state sets aside 33 percent of real estate transfer tax dollars for land conservation purposes over the next 20 years. For the 2015 budget, that amounts to over $$740 million.
As part of the amendment, the money was to be held in a Land Acquisition Trust created to fund conservation initiatives. However, the lawsuit claims that legislators have appropriated over half of that amount for other purposes that have little or nothing to do with the amendment's intent. The conservation groups who filed the lawsuit are seeking a declaratory judgment to be imposed upon the state's legislature that will affirm the allegations the state has misappropriated the trust's funds. A court declaration would provide the plaintiff's authority to enforce the terms of the amendment.
The counsel defending the state in the matter contend the legislature is compliant and has followed the amendment both in spirit and letter. Others who are familiar with the issue are not convinced. In any case, the state and the conservation groups seem to be digging in for a fight ? at taxpayers' expense.
If the plaintiffs can support their assertions with sufficient evidence, the popular constitutional amendment will be enforced rather than becoming a shell to fund other initiatives unrelated to conservation. Since the amendment passed by such a wide margin, chances are many in the state of Florida will be interested in the outcome of this real estate dispute.
Source: cape-coral-daily-breeze.com, "Bill of goods," June 26, 2015