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    Bill pulls $5-million from conservation fund

    The money taken from a state trust fund would help pay for economic development in five counties, including Hillsborough.

    By JULIE HAUSERMAN, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 7, 2002

    TALLAHASSEE -- In what environmentalists call the second raid on state conservation dollars this year, the Florida House is proposing to shift $5-million from state parks to economic development in five counties, including Hillsborough.

    The money would pay for such things as roads and sewer and water lines.

    Last month, environmentalists fought off a measure to allow money from the Florida Forever land buying program to transfer treated wastewater from one community to another.

    Now, an item in the House budget would take money out of the state's $96-million Conservation and Recreation Lands Trust Fund, which normally pays for state park projects.

    The money in the fund comes from two sources: a tax on real estate transactions and a $1.30 tax on each ton of phosphate mined in Florida.

    Phosphate mining damages the environment, and the tax is supposed to make up for some of the impact on state resources. Now, though, officials in phosphate-rich Hardee County want some of that money back.

    "Hardee County is No. 1 in poverty in the state," said County Commissioner Bill Lambert.

    The House budget would shift $5-million from the state parks fund to all the counties with phosphate mines. It would earmark $2.5-million to Hardee County, $750,000 each to Polk and Hillsborough counties, and $500,000 each to Hamilton and Manatee counties.

    Environmentalists say the state should consider helping Hardee -- but not by taking money out of the conservation fund. That would set a dangerous precedent for other interests around the state that want to tap the trust fund for local needs, they said.

    "We need every land management dollar we can get to meet the tremendous needs of the state," said Marianne Gengenbach of the Florida Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. "We can't support diverting those monies for other purposes."

    The Senate budget leaves the state park money intact, but that could change during negotiations with the House.

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