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THE ISSUE: Funding Florida’s water management districts.
OUR OPINION: Governor Scott should heed former district governors.
In 1976, Floridians voted to tax themselves to create regional water management districts. Thirty-five years later, Gov. Scott signed a bill passed by the Legislature capping the property taxes levied by the state’s five water management districts, which collectively drained $210 million from the districts’ budgets.
Not surprisingly, the measure had a deleterious impact on the ability of the districts to adequately carry out their charge of flood protection, water supply management and restoration of our ecosystems through a watershed approach.
Recognizing the deleterious impact, the Legislature wisely reversed course this past legislative session by removing the districts’ year-old tax cap. While environmental groups had hoped the legislative repeal of the cap would restore some lost funding, the gubernatorially appointed district governing boards, under apparent pressure from Gov. Scott, have instead opted to continue the tax cap or even lower tax rates further.
In response to Gov. Scott’s environmentally shortsighted stance, 20 former governing board members of Florida’s water management districts, in a display of political courage and public concern, recently sent an open letter to the governor urging the restoration of viable funding for the districts and the management of the state’s water resources regionally.
The former district governors make the sound fiscal argument that the de facto tax cap is penny-wise and pound-foolish for Florida’s future since it only results in nominal tax savings for individual property owners, while it collectively translates into a revenue loss in the hundreds of millions of dollars for the state’s water management districts. Illustrative of their argument is that the de facto tax cap for a property valued at $100,000 for tax purposes within the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) would only save the owner about $21.50.
The signatories to the letter also correctly maintain that the state’s water resources are best managed regionally. Water management at the state level lacks the necessary regional expertise to understand distinct water issues in given areas. And, as proven by past water wars, management at the local level tends to view water resources within the parochial framework of political boundaries.
As rightly noted by the signatories, the science, testing and land conservation necessary to keeping the state’s water supply healthy and abundant requires a viable level of funding and the ability of the water management districts to implement regional solutions.
To date, the response of the governor’s office to the open letter has been mute. Given the collective knowledge and experience of the former district governors, Gov. Scott would be wise to heed their call. For as a centuries-old saying reminds, “We never know the worth of water 'til the well is dry.”