The 2019 Florida legislative session is now officially over and so it is a good time to reflect on what happened and what happens next.
The big takeaway is that the Legislature awarded the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) record funding and supported all of Governor DeSantis’s initiatives to do more for Florida’s environment.
“I am pleased the Florida Legislature recognizes the importance of funding projects to accelerate Everglades restoration, continue the momentum of the C-43 and EAA reservoirs, improve water quality, enhance water supplies, protect the state’s natural lands and waterways, and restore our beaches,” said DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein.
More than $400 million has been earmarked for Everglades restoration and there is major funding for targeted water quality improvements, alternative water supply, and to combat harmful algal blooms. An additional $33 million is allocated to Florida Forever for land purchases and land management and there are more dollars to help Florida state parks impacted by Hurricane Michael.
The Governor has called for $2.5 billion to be invested over the next four years to protect and restore Florida’s Everglades and water resources – this is $1 billion more than has been invested in the previous four years.
While the Legislature agreed on $35 million funding for the Florida Park Service, less than the $54 million requested by the Governor and DEP, it is still more than double the $15 million originally offered by the Senate.
“I think we can all share the credit for this last-minute increase in state park funding. The Florida State Parks Foundation, supported by its members and local state park Friends’ groups, has spent the last few weeks talking to legislators and explaining why our state parks are so important, both environmentally and economically,” said Foundation CEO Julia Gill Woodward.
“As a result, the Senate more than doubled the budget it had allocated to the Florida Park Service and many senators and representatives are now better informed about our award-winning state parks,” she said.
“The lesson we have learned is that this advocacy effort needs to be ongoing, not just when the Legislature is sitting. We plan to meet with as many legislators as possible over the next several months ahead of next year’s session, and we urge you to support this effort.”
“Let your legislators know how essential our state parks are. Local Friends’ group can invite their local legislators to visit their parks. Use the economic impact sheets that are available on our website to educate them and local business organizations about how important the parks are both locally and statewide.”
The economic data could not be more compelling. Last year, despite the impact of Hurricane Michael, state parks and trails served more than 28 million visitors generating $2.4 billion in direct economic impact to local communities statewide and supporting more than 33,000 jobs as a result of state park operations. In addition, over $158 million was raised in the form of state sales tax.
“We have a great story to tell and we will continue to tell it across our state. The more our legislators know about the parks, the greater our chances for another record funding in next year’s budget cycle.” said Foundation CEO Julia Gill Woodward.