Advocates for Florida’s state parks, including former gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham, gathered in Tallahassee Wednesday to urge state lawmakers to fully fund parks and the state’s conservation land-buying program, Florida Forever.
Florida Forever used to get $300 million a year, paid for by an already-existing tax on real estate transactions. In recent years, the amount set aside for land-buying has dwindled.
In this year’s budget plans, Gov. Ron DeSantis has proposed $54 million for state parks and $100 million for Florida Forever, but the proposed budgets by the state House and Senate are far below that, advocates say. The Senate has earmarked just $15 million for parks, and the House $45 million. On Florida Forever, the Senate is proposing only $20 million and the the House $45 million, said Julia Gill Woodward, chief executive officer of the Florida State Parks Foundation, an advocacy group that supports parks. Graham is a board member.
The parks are especially in need now, the advocates say, because of multi-million dollar damage from hurricanes, including at least $50 million in rebuilding costs from Hurricane Michael.
“Florida has the finest parks system in the nation, but it’s protection and management isn’t free,” said Jim Stevenson, a retired state environmental official.