HARTFORD, CT — Clean energy advocates and environmentalists said Tuesday that the Republican budget that Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has promised to veto has some very short-sighted raids of funds tied to clean air and renewable energy initiatives.
The two-year, $40.7 billion Republican budget takes $20 million from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which helps protect the air quality in the region by improving infrastructure. It also included a $26 million sweep of funds from the Green Bank, which helps provide financing to accelerate renewable energy for installers and businesses.
The Democratic budget proposal, which didn’t pass either chamber, would have raided the Clean Energy Fund by $18.6 million in 2018 and $13 million in 2019. That money typically goes to help homeowners improve their energy efficiency.
“Raiding these funds digs a deeper economic hole for Connecticut,” Chris Phelps, of Environment Connecticut, said.
He said those programs strengthen the economy and help families and businesses, but every year they see the legislature try to raid the funds. And every time they do it means fewer jobs in the industry, higher energy rates for homeowners, and more pollution, Phelps said.
“It’s a dumb idea,” Phelps said flatly.
Some could say it’s actually a tax increase because ratepayers won’t be getting the benefit of the programs they’re funding.
“We view this as an energy tax,” Lou Burch, program director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said. “Because many of these programs are being paid for through our energy bills.”
Michael Trahan, of Solar Connecticut, said it amounts to a gimmick and any budget that includes these types of gimmicks is not honest.
“Neither is any lawmaker who votes for it,” Trahan added.
He said there’s a reason Connecticut is one of the last states in the country to put a budget together. He said it’s “because the people who put the budget together refuse to make the tough spending and taxing decisions that are worthwhile.”
He said it bothers him when legislators say it was tough to cut the Green Bank, RGGI, or the Clean Energy Fund.
“Those aren’t tough cuts,” Trahan said. “Those are easy cuts because most people don’t know what the Connecticut Green Bank, RGGI or the Energy Efficiency Fund are. Those are easy cuts to make.”
Claire Coleman, an attorney with the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, said it might be an easy cut but it’s not a “smart cut.”
“It’s a short-sighted cut because these funds are creating a healthy economy for our residents,” Coleman said. “The immediate cut may be easy, but it’s not smart and it shouldn’t be done.”
The Connecticut Green Bank has created more than 12,000 direct and over 30,000 indirect jobs.
“At the same time as its attracted over a billion dollars in private investment,” said John Harrity, president of the Connecticut State Council of Machinists and steering committee member for CT Roundtable on Climate and Jobs. “It lowers energy costs for participating residents and businesses … Why would you cut an income generator?”
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said the state is facing a $5.1 billion budget deficit and instead of cutting funding for families who have children with developmental and intellectual disabilities, they cut funding for RGGI and the Green Bank.
She said they didn’t cut the Clean Energy Fund like the Democrats because that money goes to ratepayers to help improve energy efficiency. She said Green Bank funding is more focused on transitioning businesses to renewable energy.
“I would hope that we could give money back at some point when we have money,” Klarides said Tuesday. “But the reality is is that we have to worry about the elderly, the children, and disabled.”
She said she thinks all the energy funds are wonderful, but when she has to make a choice she’s going to fund the social services.
Trahan said if they want to support those programs then they should go find a reliable revenue stream to pay for them.
“Don’t look to the electrical taxpayer or the gas payer — people contribute to these funds so the funds belong to them — don’t look to them to bail out the state budget. Go make the tough decisions that need to be made,” Trahan said.