Can a Florida governor make the districts cut taxes by 25%?

Can Rick Scott command the water management district governing boards to change their property tax  level by 25%?  Aside from this being a bad idea, no known provision of Florida law gives him that authority.  In fact, if the governor seriously tried to set tax levels for the water management districts, he  would run afoul of one of the bedrock principles of Florida taxation—no statewide property tax.

Sectjon 18 of Article VII of the Florida constitution forbids a state property tax:

No tax shall be levied except in pursuance of law.  No state ad valorem taxes shall be  levied upon real estate or tangible personal property.

If the governor actually had the authority to command the districts to cut taxes by a certain amount, he could just as well direct them to raise taxes by  the same or an even greater amount.  He would, on his own executive authority, be levying an ad valorem tax “upon real estate or tangible personal property.”  The state constitution forbids the attempt.

However, a quite remarkable coincidence might be ahead.  When Scott appoints enough new members of governing boards of the water management districts, will the boards somehow decide spontaneously to reduce the millage rate by 25%?

Using basic price signals

Florida water law, as it exists today, is based largely on the recommendations of the 1971 “Model Water Code” written by University of Florida law professor Frank Maloney and several others.   As the Model Water Code recommended for Florida,  surface water and groundwater legal doctrines are unified, water management districts are established on a regional basis, and the withdrawal of water is allowed only when it is “reasonable-beneficial” and “in the public interest.”  Florida’s water management system has some of the best features in the United States.  However, one idea of the Model Water Code has been ignored:

If the state were to exact periodic fees for the use of the water, it is conceivable that such a schedule of charges could be established which could discourage wasteful amounts of use and perhaps even some uses at wasteful locations or for wasteful purposes. There appears to be no doubt that fees may constitutionally be charged by the state in connection with new uses.

Why not charge a small fee for water withdrawals, as the state already does for the extraction of oil, for mining phosphate ore, for the use of submerged lands, etc.?  Wouldn’t that make economic sense and give water users a reason to become water efficient?

Pollution control now and then

Federal Judge Robert Hinkle approved in late 2009 a settlement of a lawsuit about Florida water quality standards.   He agreed that the U.S Environmental Protection Agency’s had failed to to make Florida adopt numeric water quality criteria for nutrients and must move to action.   The judge did not accept the arguments of opponents that the state should be allowed more time and required that numeric criteria be put in place:

“What you want me to do (is say that) even if Florida’s regulation is inadequate, let it go, not do what the act requires because economic times are hard and (water quality) is worse somewhere else?” the judge asked. “That would be a lawless decision.”

The decision has generated strong opposition from farmers, business, and cities and has been called “technically and scientifically flawed, as well as economically unattainable by the business and public sectors.”  It is worthwhile to look back to statements in 1966 and 1968 opposing the state’s adoption of water quality standards for the first time:

Associated Industries, 1966.

“Some waters must have as their primary purposes the fulfillment of recreational needs.  Some must be recognized as being commercial or agricultural in nature. And some must be recognized as being industrial.”

St. Regis Paper Company, 1968.  “A spokesman for the St. Regis Paper Company charged yesterday that proposed new state anti-pollution regulations could lead to waste of taxpayers’ money and industry profits.  Charles Adams of Jacksonville, an environmental control engineer for the company, told Florida Air and Water Pollution Control Commission members that he objects to the rule that would require all cities and industries to remove by treatment 90 percent of their waste materials from discharges going into the ocean or streams….Some streams are safe when the waste is only 50% treated, he said.”

Is Florida in a Drought?

Before answering that question, we have to consider the answer for different regions of Florida, for different kinds of users, and over what period of time.  The U.S. Drought Monitoring site (Drought.gov on the list of agencies to the right side of this page) has an immense amount of relevant information.  Their February 15 assessment shows most of Florida in some level of drought designation.   On February 17, they forecast that the drought would intensify through at least May of 2011.

The water management districts also prepare drought assessments.  For example, you can find at the St. Johns River Water Management District  a great deal of information on rainfall and hydrologic conditions. Similar reports are available from other water management districts.   Perhaps the most detailed set of assessments and forecasts  are for  Lake Okeechobee (prepared by the South Florida Water Management District).    One of their reports lays out the probabilities for what will be the levels of the lake and water conservation areas over the next months and year.

Yes, much of Florida is in a drought.

King Canute stops sea level rise?

Nineteen Florida congressional representatives voted recently to cut off U.S. financial contributions for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).   Five voted against the change in policy.  The split exactly followed the current partisan divide in Congress.

The IPCC takes the expertise of thousands of scientists from around the world to pull together the state of scientific research on climate change.  Cutting off U.S. funding will not prevent climate change and the resulting rise in sea level.   It would be like King Canute forbidding his scientific advisers from visiting their counterparts in the Ottoman Empire.  The sea wouldn’t notice.