Gov. candidates warm on land-buying, but not House speaker

The three candidates for governor said today they support the Florida Forever program during remarks at the Capitol, but House Speaker Larry Cretul expressed reluctance toward resuming spending for land-buying.

The state since 1990 has purchased 2.4 million acres for conservation. But the $300 million in bonding authority that had gone toward the program each year was cut to zero last year by the Legislature.

During the 2010 Associated Press Florida Legislative Planning Session, Attorney General Bill McCollum, Sen. Paula Dockery and state CFO Alex Sink all expressed support for providing some amount less than $300 million in fiscal year 2010-11 because of the tight budget. Crist said last week he will recommend $50 million for Florida Forever in his state budget request.

Cretul, R-Ocala, said the state faces a projected revenue shortfall of between $1.1 billion and $3.2 billion in FY 2010-11.

“Florida Forever certainly is a great program,” Cretul told reporters. “But it’s hard to explain (that funding) to the folks back home . . . when people are experiencing a loss of their incomes (or are) changing their plans for the future. We’ll have to see.”

McCollum, facing Dockery in the Republican primary for governor, told reporters that the sooner the state can return to fully funding Florida Forever at $300 million a year, the better.

“I think very definitely you have got to have something this session for Florida Forever,” McCollum said. “I can’t speak to how much the Legislature will find but I personally support the full $300 (million).”

Sink, who is running as a Democrat for governor, said that some reduced amount compared to the previous $300 million a year, “is appropriate in these tough economic times.”

“As soon as we are able to, I’d love to see the program fully funded again,” she said.

Dockery said providing no money for Florida Forever last year “made absolutely no sense.” She said issuing Florida Forever bonds requires a much smaller appropriation for debt service than the $300 million in bonding authority that had been granted each year by the Legislature.

During tough economic times, public lands provide “great, low-cost entertainment where families can go out and enjoy the ‘Real Florida,’ ” Dockery said. “That’s what Florida Forever is all about.”

(Story and photos copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)