MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
These are challenging times for states trying to slash deficits. Today, Florida's legislature wraps up its annual budget session and lawmakers there are setting some new spending priorities.
NPR: The environment.
GREG ALLEN: If you'd like to see federal tax dollars at work, drive west from Miami through the Everglades on Highway 41, the Tamiami Trail.
DAN KIMBALL: We've got all the pilings in, all the piers. We're starting to put decking on. And we're really excited.
ALLEN: As Governor Rick Scott says, the shortfall is forcing them to make tough choices in many areas, including protecting the environment.
RICK SCOTT: We've got to make sure we spend the money that we have, and the property that we owned, we've got to take care of it as well as we can. Right now, it's a little harder because we're walking into a big budget deficit. You know, this job requires you to prioritize how you spend your money.
ALLEN: Those actions have led environmentalists to worry Florida is returning to its dark ages, when the state's beaches, water and open land were viewed as commodities to be exploited.
LAURA REYNOLDS: This is a time capsule that we decided to put together.
ALLEN: At the Tropical Audubon Society headquarters in Miami, director Laura Reynolds unscrews the top from a large, waterproof container. It's filled with pictures, letters and artifacts placed inside for a purpose.
REYNOLDS: A lot of people in the community that work on environmental issues were so frustrated with what's going on in the state right now that we thought we needed to send a message to the future.
ALLEN: Kirk Fordham, head of the Everglades Foundation, has been working to convince legislators and the governor that dismantling regulations to help developers and the construction industry is short-sighted. He warns that loosening environmental protections may endanger the state's largest industry: tourism.
KIRK FORDHAM: Well, that's really the backbone of our state's economy. We don't have a Silicon Valley. We don't have a steel or auto industry in Florida. Our economy is so intertwined with our natural resources and our environment that if we allow that to deteriorate, then we're really sacrificing our future economic growth.
ALLEN: Florida's former governor and three-term senator, Bob Graham, says he believes the state's elected leaders may be losing sight of some important core values long defended by both political parties. In a recent op-ed piece published statewide, he called on politicians to reassess their plans to downgrade environmental protections.
BOB GRAHAM: The consequence of doing this is to go back to the era where we looked at Florida and just said it's not really worth very much. If we don't like what it is, let's change it and let's put it on the auction block.
ALLEN: Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.