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Solar energy amendment headed for primary, but will anyone vote?

TALLAHASSEE — Everyone who votes in the Aug. 30 primary can vote on an amendment to the Florida Constitution dealing with solar energy.

Amendment 4 would give commercial property owners a tax break for 20 years on renewable energy devices, such as solar panels, similar to a tax break that's available to residential property owners.

Supporters can be found across the political spectrum, including the Florida AFL-CIO, Florida Retail Federation, League of Women Voters, Sierra Club, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and Florida Wildlife Federation.

A statewide group pushing for passage of the amendment is Floridians for Solar Choice, at flsolarchoice.org. Jason Hoyt, a conservative radio host and blogger from Central Florida, announced earlier this month that he was creating a political action committee to oppose the amendment.

"Support the free market and tell Tallahassee to #StopPlayingFavorites by voting NO on Amendment 4," Hoyt tweeted Aug. 4.

Backers of the amendment say it is a blessing that turnouts in statewide primaries are traditionally low, ranging from 18 percent to 22 percent in recent election cycles.

"It's a little bit easier in August because it's a more informed electorate," said Susan Glickman of Belleair Beach, a leading supporter.

Glickman, a Tallahassee lobbyist and Florida director of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, is criss-crossing the state, giving pep talks to voters on why it's important to vote "Yes on 4."

Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and Democratic Rep. Lori Berman of Lantana are among the legislators who sponsored bills to place the solar question on the ballot, reflecting its bipartisan support.

A Brandes-backed advocacy group, Florida for Solar, reported that it raised $40,000 through July.

Most of the money came from a California group, Vote Solar. The Solar Energy Industries Association gave $10,000.

Despite Glickman's assertion that low turnout is good, some have complained Amendment 4 is doomed to fail because few will bother to vote in the primary.

The state Legislature decided to put the measure on the primary ballot, which was made in response to concerns by the utility industry, which has significant political influence in the state Capitol.

The industry wanted to avoid voter confusion between Amendment 4 and a pro-industry ballot proposal, Amendment 1, which will be on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Environmentalists, who are trying to defeat Amendment 1, are trying to clear up potential confusion, too.

"People ask me all the time, 'Is this the good ballot initiative or the bad ballot initiative?' " Glickman said in a talk to a group of North Florida Democrats in Tallahassee.

Three other amendments, numbered 2, 3 and 5, will also be on the November ballot.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com and follow him @stevebousquet.

Solar energy amendment headed for primary, but will anyone vote? 08/18/16 [Last modified: Thursday, August 18, 2016 11:14am]
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