Sugar wins first round of cleanup fightby John Kennedy | March 7th, 2013
A House committee unanimously approved legislation Thursday backed by the powerful sugar industry that extends a $25-per-acre tax on growers for Everglades restoration, but which environmentalists say puts the largest share of cleanup costs on South Florida taxpayers.
The measure (PCB 13-01) cleared the State Affairs Committee on a 17-0 vote. Sugar lobbyists told the panel the legislation sets the stage for completing an $880 million Everglades effort advanced by Gov. Rick Scott — with growers paying their fair share.
“We are optimistic this plan is going to be successful,” Phil Parsons, representing the Florida Sugar Cane League, told the committee.
Scott, however, supports a Senate bill that doesn’t readdress the Everglades Agricultural Privilege Tax. The $25-per-acre levy has been paid by growers since 1994, but is slated to fall to $10-per-acre in 2016.
Sugar growers say the legislation makes them pay an extra $6.6 million to the South Florida Water Management District — and that’s an appropriate amount.
Environmental organizations, however, want to shelve the House bill. They point to research which shows 60 percent of the pollution in waterways feeding the Everglades stems from farms in the region around Lake Okeechobee.
Setting the new tax rate now — rather than reviewing it later, before it expires in 2016 — will prove a good deal for the sugar industry. They fear it will shut off any discussion of whether sugar it paying its proper share.
Meanwhile, the bulk of the $880 million cleanup project will fall on taxpayers, said Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation.
“That’s an inequity that should be addressed,” Eikenberg said.