Florida's conservation land-buying program was not included among 38 priorities identified by members of a House panel.
The Florida Forever land-buying program is a 2010-11 budget priority for Gov. Charlie Crist and environmental groups. Florida Forever is the largest land-buying program in the nation with 2.4 million acres having been purchased since 1990.
But the program received no money from the Legislature last year and could run out of cash by the end of the year. Members of the House Natural Resources Appropriations committee were asked to each rank eight priorities among 81 spending items.
Half of the 14 committee members turned in priority worksheets, and none marked the $200 million in bonding authority for Florida Forever. One member marked Everglades restoration, suggested at $100 million in bonding, as a priority.
Crist requested $50 million in bonding for each program. Including them in the budget would cost nearly $10 million in additional spending in 2010-11 for debt service.
Rep. Ralph Poppell, R-Vero Beach and committee chairman, said Florida Forever still could get money -- depending on revenue estimates and further direction from House leaders on the amount of money the committee has to budget for 2010-11.
"People want us to spend the money wisely and be held accountable," he said. "We can't do everything they want us to do."
After the meeting, Audubon of Florida representative Julie Wraithmell said Florida Forever is not over yet.
"It's a program with a lot of (public) support," she said.
Committee members now are being asked to rank the priority programs with the lowest priorities totaling at least $294.6 million. Democrats have objected to the budget exercise in Natural Resources Appropriations and other House committees.
(Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)