Lawmakers urge reversing clean-energy cuts, but lack budget fix

Keith M. Phaneuf / CTMirror.org

Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, left, clean energy advocate Leticia Colon de Mejias and Rep. Derek Slap, D-West Hartford

A coalition of legislators and energy efficiency advocates pledged Tuesday to work to restore at least some of the roughly $175 million stripped from green programs in the new two-year state budget.

But none of the nearly dozen legislators who attended the bipartisan press conference identified alternative spending cuts or revenue increases to offset any restoration of funds for clean energy.

“Energy efficiency is an undervalued economic tool for our state economy, our residents and our businesses, said Leticia Colon de Mejias, CEO of Energy Efficiencies Solutions and chairwoman of Efficiency For All — a coalition of clean energy businesses and nonprofit advocacy groups. “… Diverting energy efficiency funds is not just disappointing, it is fiscally irresponsible and will result in higher electricity bills for Connecticut’s households, businesses and state properties.”

At issue is $175 million in total stripped in the new two-year budget from three energy efficiency programs, including:

  • $63.5 million taken this fiscal year and next from the Energy Efficiency Fund.
  • $14 million taken annually from the Connecticut Green Bank.
  • And $10 million taken each year from the conservation fund used to support the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

The majority of those funds are raised by the state through a surcharge on consumers’ monthly utility bills. The Green Bank cut also sparked significant outcry because for every $1 in consumer surcharge receipts, the state leverages $8 to $10 in private investment in clean-energy programs.

“We must restore funding and stop these bait-and-switch tactics, said Rep. Lonnie Reed, D-Branford, House chair of the Energy and Technology Committee.

CTMirror.org

Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport (CTMirror file photo)

“It’s not our money, it’s ratepayer money,” said Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, who also serves on the energy committee.

Steinberg said he “wasn’t proud” of his vote last October that ended a nine-month budget standoff at the expense of clean-energy programs, but added Connecticut cannot halt the progress of its “burgeoning green economy. The last thing we want to do is be sending another wrong signal.”

“In any budget there are things to dislike,” said Rep. Derek Slap, D-West Hartford. “The sweeps to these funds definitely were one of them.”

“These dollars have leveraged a lot of good work, and we need to make sure that continues,” added Rep. Tim Ackert, R-Coventry.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who signed the new budget into law but also criticized the energy fund sweeps, has urged lawmakers to reverse the Connecticut Green Bank cuts.

“Governor Malloy clearly opposed these energy sweeps at the time the budget was passed by the legislature in the fall; finding the cuts unwise for endangering wildly successful programs such as Connecticut’s Green Bank, which serves as a national model,” Chris McClure, spokesman for the administration’s budget office, said Tuesday.

Reversing the Green Bank cut would “ensure that these effective programs and green jobs endure into the future and continue our goals of moving the state into a clean-energy economy,” McClure added.

Malloy’s new budget proposed a series of modest tax increases that would enable this and also close a projected $165 million hole in the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. These include adding 25 cents per pack to the cigarette tax, raising real estate conveyance and hotel occupancy tax rates, and ending the property tax credit within the income tax.

But legislative leaders from both parties have expressed skepticism that support could be found this year — with state elections to be held in November — to raise taxes or cut spending for municipal aid or social services — to rebalance the budget.

When challenged to identify any revenue increases or spending cuts that might be offered to shift resources to clean-energy programs, lawmakers at Tuesday’s press conference offered none.

Steinberg did say that, “I think we have to be realistic about what we can get back,” adding that the chances of restoring all $175 million cut over two fiscal years are very slim.

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