|Published:||Apr 10, 2013 4:59 PM EDT|
|Updated:||Apr 10, 2013 6:41 PM EDT|
FORT MYERS, Fla. - It was sold as a victory for the Everglades, but one local official says tax payers are getting ripped off.
"It's a hoax, it's a tremendous assault and an affront on taxpayers," said former Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah.
Judah is referencing an amendment to the Everglades Forever Act, which unanimously passed the state House last month and is in committee in the state Senate.
Judah says sugar companies aren't paying enough to solve the environmental problems they create.
"All we get in return are algae blooms, fish kills, red tide and destruction of our coastal back bays and estuaries," Judah said.
House Bill 7065 is sponsored by Rep. Matt Caldwell from Lehigh Acres. Caldwell says the bill is something everyone can agree to.
And a lot of people do agree with it. Governor Scott supports it. Sugar companies support it, and in a unique twist, even some environmental groups are behind it.
Sugar companies are taxed $25 an acre for the roughly 440,000 acres they use to harvest sugar cane in the Everglades. That generates about $11 million-a-year for Everglades restoration.
"It's a small price to pay that's exacted from the sugar industry to allow them to continue to pollute these precious resources," Judah said.
Judah argues the taxes should be raised, but that proposal was shut down in the legislature.
Judah, the Sierra Club and the Friends of the Everglades have all come out against the legislation, saying it doesn't do enough for restoration.
Meanwhile, the Everglades Foundation and Audubon Florida, two other environmental groups, both support the bill since it extends the current tax for 14 years.
Eric Eikenberg, CEO of the Everglades Foundation, said the legislation is a "big victory on the environmental side."
Robert Coker, the Senior V.P. of U.S. Sugar said the legislation "demonstrates the art of compromise between all parties."