Lawmakers Approve Gaming Funds for Environmental Projects

BY PATRICK GILLESPIE

Florida lawmakers crafted legislation that directs 96 percent of revenue derived from the 2021 Gaming Compact be set aside for environmental projects, which will be used for a variety of environmental projects well into the future.

Carried by Sen. Travis Hutson and Rep. James Buchanan, the bills, which now go to Gov. Ron DeSantis, mark a significant source of revenue dedicated to the environment. Buchanan estimates revenue for the upcoming fiscal year to hit nearly $750 million.

“Through this bill, we’re going to be preserving our land, recharging our aquifers, ensuring biodiversity, improving water quality, investing in our state’s resiliency, preserving and keeping working lands working,” said Buchanan in his closing on the House floor. “And yes, our state’s natural history for future generations.”

The state’s agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which was reached on April 23, 2021, and has been challenged in court for years, sets the terms by which the Tribe can offer gaming in Florida in exchange for dedicated revenue to the state.

The Compact provides the Tribe with partial, but substantial exclusivity for specified gaming activities in Florida. There is a guaranteed minimum payment of $2.5 billion for the first five years and not less than $400 million annually. The agreement lasts 30 years.

The bill specifies how the funding is to be distributed and for what purpose it should be spent:

  • $100 million annually to support the Florida wildlife corridor
  • $100 million annually for management of uplands and removal of invasive species
  • $36 million to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) for state park land management activities and $4 million for the Local Trail Management Grant Program
  • $32 million to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services for land management activities
  • $32 million to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for land management activities, specifically for gopher tortoises and Florida panthers
  • $100 million for flooding and sea level rise resilience
  • Any remaining funds will go to FDEP for water quality improvement grants

At a January Senate hearing, Florida TaxWatch supported the measure.

“We think this will create a statewide legacy of significant investments and fiscal stewardship for generations of Floridians,” said Kurt Wenner, Senior Vice President of Research for the watchdog group. “Our valuable water resources and the taxpayers deserve nothing less.”

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