September 12, 2018

Hurricane Relief, Environmental Conservation Efforts in Jeopardy Under Amendment 5

If legislators are unable to reach Amendment 5’s vote threshold to raise state revenue, Florida’s beaches, lakes, parks and air and water quality could suffer

States like Florida that are prone to natural disasters must be able to provide immediate relief to families affected by hurricanes

LAKE MARY, FL Roughly one year ago, Hurricane Irma pummeled the Florida Keys before making its way through the mainland, leaving what was later pegged at tens of billions of dollars in damage in its path. Providing disaster relief for families in the wake of natural disasters like Irma would be exceedingly difficult, however, if a small group of legislators had the ability to block revenue bills. In its latest policy brief, the Florida Policy Institute explores what disaster recovery — and environmental conservation — would look like under Amendment 5, a measure that would make any additional investment in these areas virtually impossible.

On November 6, voters in Florida will decide on a legislatively-referred constitutional amendment that would require a two-thirds (supermajority) vote of the state Legislature to raise state revenues, taxes and fees and eliminate tax breaks and loopholes.

The Institute pointed to a requirement of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Public Assistance Grant Program that states must provide a 25 percent match for federal disaster aid. If a supermajority requirement limits state support, according to the brief, rebuilding efforts and local aid could be in jeopardy.

Natural disasters are a growing threat to Floridians’ safety — one that could be mitigated through conservation efforts to preserve the state’s coastline and natural resources. However, the Institute also looked at Florida Forever Trust Fund monies and noted that, beginning in 2008, the state Legislature significantly reduced or eliminated funding intended to support conservation efforts. (The $100.8 million for Florida Forever included in the current-year budget is the largest appropriation in the past decade.) Amendment 5 would lock in the current insufficient funding levels for environmental conservation and likely lead to future cuts following an economic downturn.

“People need extra help after a natural disaster,” said Joseph F. Pennisi, executive director of the Institute. “They need food and clean water, and access to medical services and emergency shelters. But all of these items require added investments from state lawmakers, something that would be rendered difficult, if not impossible, under Amendment 5’s supermajority requirement. This is extremely concerning, as hurricanes are predicted to become more frequent and more intense in the future.”

“The state faces unprecedented threats from stronger hurricanes, rising seas, toxic algae blooms and other consequences of climate change, pollution and out of control urban growth,” said Frank Jackalone, director of Sierra Club Florida. “Florida needs the ability to mitigate against the disasters to come and our state government shouldn’t create a major obstacle that would prevent it from providing funds for prevention and relief.”

The Florida Policy Institute’s mission is to advance state policies and budgets that improve the economic mobility and quality of life for all Floridians.

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