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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Lots of heat blowing with Crist v. Alexander battle over energy rebates



After the Legislative Budget Commission Tuesday refused to take up Gov. Charlie Crist's request to place on their agenda a legislative okay to use federal stimulus money for a solar rebate program and a highly-promoted program to provide rebates to homeowners who buy energy efficient air conditions, the governor shot back. Download 2010.9.14 Atwater-Cretul[1] He sent a letter to House Speaker Larry Cretul and Senate President Jeff Atwater urging them to approve it.

Within hours, Senate Ways and Means Chairman JD Alexander lambasted the governor with his own letter, claiming they were forced to remove items from his agenda "because approving either item would have violated Florida law."  

Here's Alexander's statement: The two amendments would have provided funds from the federal government’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for two rebate programs – the Solar Rebate Program and the HVAC Program.  

Each of these proposed amendments violated Chapter 216, Florida Statutes.  These provisions prohibit spending appropriations for fixed capital outlay projects for any other purpose.  They also prohibit budget amendments which fund programs requested by an agency or recommended for funding by the Governor but not funded by the legislature.  Both amendments run afoul of the first prohibition.  The solar rebate amendment also violates the second prohibition.  The Governor recommended $10 million in funding for that program, and the legislature chose not to fund it, due in large part to the fact that the rebates are so large that the primary incentive of the program is to the wealthy who can already afford the  solar systems which qualify for the maximum rebate -- $20,000 for residential units.  We have already spent over $19 million of taxpayer money on this program.  Of that amount, 510 recipients were apparently paid over $12.4 million in rebates. 

The Florida Energy and Climate Commission chose to begin advertising the HVAC rebate program despite knowing that funding was not available.  There is no cash to support either program, since the funds involved were appropriated in fixed capital outlay categories.  By law, these kinds of budget changes must be made by the entire legislature, not by a subset of the members. 

It should also be pointed out that the original legislation which authorized the solar rebate program clearly limited the payment of rebates to the amount appropriated in any fiscal year. 

The legislature will return for an organization session in November.  If, after evaluating other spending options, it is the desire of both houses to fund these programs, appropriations can be lawfully provided during a special session, if one is called.

[Last modified: Thursday, October 7, 2010 5:29pm]


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