Talk about rubbing it in.
Gov. Rick Scott drew the ire of environmental groups Wednesday when he came to the South Florida Water Management District to celebrate slashing the budget of the agency that leads Everglades restoration.
Wednesday morning at the district’s West Palm Beach headquarters, Scott held a ceremonial signing of Senate Bill 2142. The bill requires a more than 30 percent budget cut for the agency that oversees South Florida water supplies, guards against flooding and leads Everglades restoration.
That will translate to about $128 million in spending cuts for the South Florida Water Management District. Layoffs, scaling back on flood control facility maintenance and putting some already overdue Everglades restoration projects on hold are among the ways the district proposes to deal with the budget cuts.
"We find it completely bizarre that Gov. Scott is relishing in the fact that the water management districts are being cut while we are in a drought," said Jane Graham, of Audubon of Florida. "These cuts are completely illogical now. … We are disgusted."
Scott heralds the measure as a way to cut property taxes for Florida residents. The Legislature this year forced budget cuts at four of Florida’s five water management districts.
During Scott’s campaign for governor he was critical of spending at the South Florida Water Management District, joining a Tea Party protest of the district’s bid to buy farmland from U.S. Sugar Corp. for Everglades restoration.
On Wednesday Scott returned to the district headquarters, where employees are waiting to see who faces layoffs.
"This property tax cut allows families and businesses to use more of their hard-earned money in the way they see best, rather than having to send it to a government agency," Scott said.
The governor said there will be a new effort to hold water districts "accountable for how every tax dollar is spent."
Those tax savings aren’t worth the potential cost to South Florida water supplies, according to the Everglades Foundation.
"It is a bit of an insult to the people of South Florida for the Governor to fly down on his private plane to offer the average homeowner a tax cut that amounts to less than 50 cents a week, just as our region is experiencing a water supply shortage of such great magnitude," Everglades Foundation CEO Kirk Fordham said.
"Since the water management district's mission is to protect our natural resources and water supply, I'm not certain that gutting the agency in the midst of a massive water crisis is either smart politics or very good policy," Fordham said.
District officials in July will consider a host of budget cuts, including layoffs and selling off public land.
The district has to submit a proposed budget to the governor and Legislature by Aug. 1. The district board takes its final vote on the agency’s property tax rate and budget in September.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun