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    Lawmakers propose bonds to buy Everglades land

    By JULIE HAUSERMAN, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published December 19, 2001

    TALLAHASSEE -- Saying Florida needs to buy land to protect the Everglades now before the price goes up, a group of state lawmakers on Tuesday proposed a new plan to borrow money to get the job done.

    The state would issue bonds for Everglades land buying, under a bill proposed by Rep. Paula Dockery, a Lakeland Republican.

    "The sooner you can buy, the cheaper you can get the land for," Dockery said at a news conference attended by a dozen House members and House Speaker Tom Feeney, a Republican from Oviedo.

    The proposal, dubbed "Bond as You Buy," would raise $125-million each year for eight years.

    But a spokesman for Gov. Jeb Bush said Tuesday that "the governor is concerned" about the state's getting into more debt.

    "He certainly wants to find a dedicated funding source for the Everglades," said Bush spokeswoman Lisa Gates, adding that the governor would "take a look" at the House plan.

    Restoring the Everglades is expected to take 20 years and cost between $8-billion and $11-billion. The federal government is paying half the cost, and Florida taxpayers will pay the other half. The first step is buying 150,000 acres of land to be used to store water and restore the historic flows of the vast marsh.

    Under the House plan, the state's ability to borrow money to buy Everglades land would be flexible. In tight years, lawmakers could borrow more, and in years when the state budget is fatter, they could use a larger share of existing state dollars.

    The plan will be debated when the Legislature convenes in January.

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