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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Tea Party group barrages the gov's office with robo calls urging veto of energy bill

12

April

In thousands of robo-calls and emails, the Florida chapter of Americans For Prosperity warns the governor that the first energy bill passed by legislators in years would bring “uncompetitive green energy” and a “Solyndra-type company’’ to Florida.

It’s part of an aggressive campaign by the Koch-affiliated tea party group against HB 7117, a measure that offers tax credits of $100 million over five years to companies willing to invest in alternative energy in Florida and requires utility regulators to evaluate Florida's fuel mix into the future. Only four of the Legislature's 160 members voted against it.

As of Thursday, the group reports patching through 1,300 calls to the governor’s office and forwarding nearly 2,800 emails from its members.

"Why is the governor going for this,'' asks Shirley Fisher in a voice mail, adding that she makes $724 a month and can't afford the price of gas. "We need to get those prices down at the pump."

Scott must veto the bill or let it become law by Saturday.

It’s a political test of sorts for the governor, who spent $73 million of his own money to get elected on a platform that he was going to operate things differently in Tallahassee.

“The easy way out would be to ignore this and let the bill become law, but that’s going to piss off my membership and tea party people,’’ said Slade O’Brien, the Florida director of Americans For Prosperity, which calls itself a grass roots free market organization.

Instead, O’Brien said, the governor should veto the measure he considers “crony capitalism” and “send a message that we are going to change the culture of this state.”

But Agriculure Commissioner Adam Putnam, a Republican who runs the state energy office and pushed for the bill as his top legislative priority, vigorously disagrees.

"I can’t imagine how we put Florida on a path towards a thoughtful, long-term energy policy if we can’t even get this modest attempt across the finish line," Putnam said in an interview.

He said references to President Obama’s fizzled stimulus grant to Solyndra are inaccurate because the bill would provide tax credits to alternative energy companies only after providing renewable energy upgrades and green hires.

He worries the tea party's opposition campaign will lead Scott to veto the bill despite support from business lobbying groups, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida.

At a Tuesday news conference, former SNL actor-turned-tea party activist Victoria Jackson said the bill would be supported by communists, Socialists, Mao, Lenin, Stalin and President Barack Obama.

Republican lawmakers never adopted that kind of rhetoric when discussing the bill, as both chambers overwhelmingly passed it. The House sponsor, Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, in fact, last year was named American's For Prosperity's Legislator of the Year.

"We differ so strongly on this issue,’’ he said. "I just find it quite odd."

He considers the anti-Obama rhetoric and the comparison of tax credits to subsidies inaccurate and not helpful. "I think that kind of stuff is beneath what AFP should be standing for," Plakon said.

Others supporters of the bill note that the oil and gas industry, on which the Koch Industries has built its corporate empire, receives fossil fuel subsidies. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Koch family uses OPEC oil at its Texas refineries and opposes expanding subsidies to encourage natural gas-powered vehicles because it would unfairly enrich the natural gas industry.

O’Brien, too, considers the tax credits an unfair advantage given to start-up companies. “You shouldn’t favor one industry over another because somebody always pays the bill,’’ he said.

What about the subsidies to the oil and gas industry? “That’s done at the federal level,’’ O’Brien said.

Putnam and Plakon, R-Longwood, said they worked on the bill with Scott's energy adviser Mary Bane throughout session, taking out things Scott's team didn't want and adding in accountability measures for the tax credits.

Putnam had a good conversation with Scott last week, he said.

"As he always is, he was thorough and asked a lot of good questions and asked for supporting data," Putnam said. "We agreed to continue to answer his questions."

Still, he's concerned.

As of Tuesday, calls and emails to Scott's office in opposition of HB 7117 outranked those in favor by 2,510 - 1.

 “I’m hoping he’ll be bold,’’ O’Brien said. “But I don’t know He’s not checking in with me.”

-- Katie Sanders and Mary Ellen Klas

[Last modified: Thursday, April 12, 2012 7:48pm]

    

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