House Plans to Target Flooding, Sea Level Rise


The House floated “a suite of bills” to address climate change, including a tax break for owners who elevate homes and money for local governments that create programs. Gov. DeSantis proposed changes earlier, but many differences must now be worked out.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Under proposals announced Friday by Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, Floridians would be asked to approve a tax break for people who elevate their homes to avoid the threat of flooding, and up to $100 million a year would be set aside to help local governments combat rising sea levels.

The 2021 legislative session begins Tuesday, following a proposal by Gov. Ron DeSantis to provide $1 billion over the next four years to state and local agencies for “resiliency” projects that help combat the effects of climate change.

In announcing the House plan Friday at the University of South Florida’s St. Petersburg campus, Sprowls said the proposals aren’t filled with “bricks and concrete,” but “great ideas” from lawmakers and other people “making sure that Florida will become the leader in America in protecting us from flood mitigation and sea level rise.”

“While some continued to debate word choices, we’re rolling up our sleeves and focusing on real problems that affect real business owners and real homeowners in our community,” says Sprowls, who was among the first Republicans to publicly address climate-change impacts at the end of former Gov. Rick Scott’s second term.

The House is looking to budget $25 million next fiscal year and establish a program to help local governments cover the added costs of flooding and sea level rise. The plan, which would set up the Resilient Florida Trust Fund within the Department of Environmental Protection, calls for funding to jump to $100 million annually starting in the 2022-2023 fiscal year.

The House plan and DeSantis’ proposal include some key differences, however.

DeSantis calls for spending $25 million during the upcoming 2021-2022 fiscal year, but that money would be used for debt service to issue bonds. He would increase the state funding by $25 million a year the next three years as part of long-term bonding.

DeSantis would also use money from documentary stamp taxes on real-estate transactions. State voters in 2014 directed a third of the “doc stamp” money go to land and water conservation. The governor’s proposal would run the money through a non-profit entity that would be called the Resiliency Florida Financing Corp. 

While the funding source for the House plan still needs to be worked out when lawmakers put together the 2021-2022 budget, the House doesn’t call for bonding the money. House leaders have been averse to incurring long-term debt through issuing bonds.

The House proposal, which Sprowls called a “suite of bills,” also would set up a three-year Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan that the Department of Environmental Protection would update annually.

Also, Sprowls’ proposal would ask voters in 2022 to approve a constitutional amendment that would provide a property-tax break when residents elevate homes to avoid the impacts of flooding and rising seas. Under the proposal, those improvements would not be considered when determining assessed values of homes for tax purposes.

“Homeowners who are taking proactive measures to protect their property from flooding should not only be rewarded, but they should be incentivized,” says Rep. Linda Chaney, a St. Pete Beach Republican, sponsoring the proposed constitutional amendment and an accompanying bill (HJR 1377 and HB 1379).

The House plan also would require the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct a statewide assessment of flood risks, encourage local governments to set up regional coalitions on resilience issues and establish at USF the Florida Flood Hub for Applied Research and Innovation to address flooding and sea-level rise issues.

“Our regional efforts have led the way in responding to flooding and sea level rise, and we are committed to supporting them,” says Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera, a Coral Gables Republican who will help carry the legislation. “No matter where you live in Florida, we want you to have the best information and innovation to address these problems.”

Environmentalists want lawmakers to take additional steps to address the causes of climate change.

“It is mandatory that we have substantial and urgent action to reduce our reliance on dirty fossil fuels and transition us to a clean, renewable energy future,” says Jonathan Webber, deputy director of the Florida Conservation Voters. “No matter how much money the state invests in flooding and infrastructure, we cannot adapt ourselves out of climate change.”

Yoca Arditi-Rocha, executive director of the non-profit CLEO Institute, which works on climate-change issues, called the House proposal a good first step but said the effort remains “reactionary, not proactive.”

“Our leaders must take the necessary steps to not only address these impacts, but more importantly, acknowledge and address the root cause of this problem.” Arditi-Rocha said in a statement.

Source: News Service of Florida



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