Lawmakers, activists at odds over Florida energy initiative

TALLAHASSEE, FLA. (WSVN) - As early voters voice their choice on a Florida energy initiative, a battle is brewing among the amendment’s supporters and critics over how beneficial it would be to the Sunshine State.

Some argue that Floridians are not using the sunshine to its fullest potential. “Well, it’s important, because right now, less than 1 percent of our energy is coming from solar,” said a supporter of the measure, known as Amendment 4.

That could change come Aug. 30, when state lawmakers give voters the power to decide the fate of the initiative. “Amendment 4 is really just a common-sense measure that takes advantage of the national resources that we have,” said the supporter, “and it makes this energy, and energy costs in general, more affordable for Floridians.”

The measure, approved during the last legislative session, would offer tax breaks to businesses installing renewable energy devices like solar panels.

“So, some businesses that have engaged in solar have seen their property values go up, which increases their property taxes,” said State Rep. Ray Rodriguez, “and [they] receive a tangible personal property tax, and they end up paying more in taxes than they are saving in their energy.”

The Rev. Al Sharpton and the National Action Network are against Amendment 4 because, members said, the current revenue stream of corporate tax dollars that’s supposed to benefit the community as a whole does not fulfill that purpose.

“The beneficiaries of this are big businesses who, if they paid their tax on this, it would go toward helping schools where we hear from local counties and cities that they don’t have the budget,” said Sharpton. “It would go to the areas of social service that you claim that you don’t have the budget.”

Moreover, critics said, if Amendment 4 passes, more tax dollars will be lost unless lawmakers add an important caveat. “If you really want to make a difference, why didn’t you put the accountability clauses in the amendment so we know that those tax dollars would be reinvested in our community?” said Lawanna Gelzer of the Florida Chapter of the National Action Network.

The state already has a property tax abatement for solar and renewable energy devices on residential properties, and according to the U.S. Department of Energy, Floridians use 40 percent more electricity than the national average. Florida is currently among the lowest ranked states in the country utilizing solar power, but it ranks third in the nation for solar potential.

Amendment 4 has to claim 60 percent of the vote to pass. If it does pass, the tax breaks would begin in 2018 and remain in effect for 20 years.

If you would like to read the full amendment, click here.

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