Hey, Senator Hays, We’re Not Buying It

Jul 12, 2015 by

State Sen. Alan Hays recently penned an op-ed that appeared in numerous Florida newspapers bragging about the great job he and his legislative colleagues did in funding Amendment 1.

Kudos on a job well done — no, not on properly implementing the Water and Land Conservation initiative. On that front, they failed miserably. Congrats on submitting such a fine work of fiction.

Why would Hays, a Umatilla Republican, release an op-ed that so distorted the facts?

It could be because of the public backlash on the Florida Legislature’s snubbing of voters or it could be as a preemptive strike against the lawsuit filed against the Legislature for failing to comply with its constitutional duty.

I strongly suspect that PR experts or political consultants actually authored the piece because it so masterfully spins the Legislature’s blatant disregard for voters’ wishes into a glorious account of how they worked tirelessly to protect and preserve Florida’s natural resources for future generations.

Could Floridians fall for it?

It’s possible. Legislators claim that they funded Amendment 1 with $741.8 million just like voters asked. The problem is, it’s not like we asked. Additionally, they got to that number by shifting funds around — just like they initially did with the lottery.

After years of the Legislature and governor starving land acquisition funding, angry Floridians organized a citizens initiative, collected hundreds of thousands of petitions and raised money to fund a campaign. Amendment 1 passed with an incredible 75 percent of the vote — a huge mandate.

It would be impossible to diminish the popularity of the initiative but that didn’t stop Hays from trying.

He opened his op-ed with the following: “In November, 4.2 million Floridians, roughly 20 percent, or one in five of the nearly 20 million people who call our state home, voted in favor of the Water and Land Conservation Amendment.”

Bravo! With that sleight of hand, he turned 75 percent support into 20 percent.

Let’s take that logic further.

Attorney General Pam Bondi received 3.2 million votes, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam 3.3 million, and Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater 3.4 million.

But by applying the Hays percentage-diminishing math logic, they represent 16.2 percent, 16.8 percent and 16.9 percent of Floridians, respectively.

And poor Gov. Rick Scott. His 2.8 million vote total means he represents a mere 14.4 percent of Floridians, according to Hays’ rationale.

And let’s check out his numbers: Hays, elected in 2012 with 163,223 votes, represents less than one percent of Floridians (eight-tenths of one percent to be exact). Clearly his voice is more important than 4.2 million voters.

Hays claims they did set aside 33 percent of documentary stamp revenue as required for Amendment 1. What he didn’t say was that $227 million was used for existing operations like salaries and expenses.

He mentions Florida Forever, but only to brag about spending $200 million to pay for its existing debt service. Paying down the debt service would have been done with or without Amendment 1.

Hays believes “there’s a whole lot more to being a conservationist than acquiring property” — must be — as Florida Forever received a paltry $15 million. Both Govs. Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist managed to fully fund Florida Forever at $300 million annually until 2008.

Apparently funding debt service and salaries makes one a better conservationist than funding Florida Forever.

Hays bristles at the comparison between Amendment 1 spending and the shell game the Legislature played with lottery funding — shifting costs and providing little in the way of new funding. Yet it’s an apt comparison.

Awkwardly, Hays points out that the lottery generated new funding while Amendment 1 did not. True enough, it relies on a growing existing revenue source. Is he disappointed there isn’t a new tax?

Despite a $1.8 billion surplus, Hays claims funding Amendment 1 means general revenue funding had to be reduced for our schools, health care and other state needs. Why then did the Legislature refuse $2 billion in federal funds for healthcare expansion? And why is it taking credit for record funding for education and over $400 million in tax cuts?

Had legislators been “diligent,” as Hays claims, they would have funded Florida Forever at $300 million and used the other $441 million for springs protection, Everglades funding and management of publicly owned lands. They didn’t.

Legislators circumvented the voters’ wishes in hopes the court will believe they “technically” followed the amendment language. To add insult to injury they plan to use our tax dollars to defend themselves against the pending lawsuit. They know that even if the court rules against them, there really isn’t a good remedy to force their hand. Emboldened, they’ll do it again next year.

The best remedy is to elect legislative candidates who listen to the voters — 4.2 million of them.

Paula Dockery is a syndicated columnist who served in the Florida Legislature for 16 years as a Republican from Lakeland. She can be reached at PBDockery@gmail.com.



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