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In bickering, Tallahassee fails Florida
In an effort to increase the energy efficiency of homes, the state of Florida showed how inefficient it can be. On Aug. 30, the Florida Energy and Climate Commission (FECC) began a program to provide $1,500 Energy Star rebates for Florida homeowners who bought qualified air conditioning systems and certified minimal duct leakage in their homes. On Sept. 14, the Legislative Budget Commission (LBC) stopped the program, stating it needed a full vote from the Legislature.
Immediately, a battle between the governor’s office and the Florida Legislature blew like hot air from a leaking air conditioner over how to disperse federal funds. At issue is a $17.5 million grant the state received from the U.S. Department of Energy in August, part of an overall request the Legislature approved in its spring session.
For two weeks, Florida homeowners bought qualified A/C systems, sealed duct leaks and applied for the $1,500 rebate only to find the program had been suspended.
Duct leakage is a serious problem for Florida homeowners; it is estimated that nearly half of Florida homes have significant duct leaks that needlessly increase power bills and waste energy.
In a letter dated Sept.15 to Gov. Crist, House Speaker Larry Cretul defended the LBC’s decision, stating the governor’s request to place funding approval on the LBC’s Sept. 14 agenda was unlawful. Gov. Crist responded that language was included in the spring budget to use the funds and was part of line item 2561-A of the General Appropriations Act. The Attorney General’s Office declined comment on the issue, referring questions back to the Senate Budget Office.
Meanwhile, companies that advertised the program, trained employees and bought new test equipment wondered what to tell customers. Homeowners wondered if they would ever get their $1,500. And homeowners scheduled for new air conditioning systems reconsidered making such a purchase.
What is dysfunctional about this issue is not whether the money exists, but how it is defined. Is a vote really needed for money requested and received?
Could party politics between the governor and his opponents be at play here?
In order for homeowners to receive what was promised, our leaders must act immediately. The funds had to be committed to this energy rebate program by Sept. 30 and used by Dec. 31 or else the money returns to the federal government. Do state legislators serve Florida when they lose federal grant money?
How can a commission start a program when another says it can’t and had plenty of time to issue that position? Do state commission members not talk to one another, or use e-mail?
Citizens depend on government to do what it promises; they should not be victims of political dysfunction.
While the LBC and the governor can argue about how to disburse federal funds, it should not be done at the expense of homeowners and small businesses.
This program created many benefits for Florida through job creation, energy savings and increased revenues for both business and government. It cost the state nothing. Had a Florida business promised rebates only to suspend them, it could face criminal charges.
Regardless of who is procedurally correct, our leaders need to work together.
Economic recovery through job creation and energy savings is more important than statutory language arguments. Leaders of the LBC need to reexamine their conclusions, or else convene a special session in order to keep this program alive.
This editorial first appeared in the Citrus County Chronicle on September 30.