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Governor Christie Quietly Diverts $210 Million From Clean Energy Fund To Balance This Year’s Budget – Is it Justified or Just Another Tax? [POLL]

Governor Chris Christie holds his 101st Town Hall in Montville (Governor’s Office/Tim Larsen)
Governor Chris Christie holds his 101st Town Hall in Montville (Governor’s Office/Tim Larsen)

It’s been common practice here in NJ to raid certain trust funds to balance the state’s budget.

Nothing new, just a practice we’ve taken for granted, with unforeseen consequences.

The Transportation Trust fund, the Unemployment Trust fund have all been either underfunded or raided to augment past budgets.

So why should it surprise you that Governor Christie has quietly taken funds from the state’s clean energy fund to balance this year’s 32.9 billion dollar budget?

The State’s Clean Energy fund is amassed by the utility tax that appears on your energy bills that should be going to fund clean energy programs…but instead is used as a slush fund to augment other state projects, among other things.

Let’s take a quick look at what all the Governor has proposed in this year’s budget:

The budget allows more poor residents to enroll in Medicaid and increases public school aid but defers property tax rebates for three months to cover a projected budget shortfall.

Christie proposed adding $40 million to the current-year budget to cover Sandy-related expenses not reimbursed by the federal government.

Christie’s budget abandons the 10 percent tax break he proposed last year that the Democratic-led Legislature refused to go along with. Christie and all 120 members of the Legislature face re-election in November.

The proposed budget adds nearly $100 million to public education and allocates $2 million for a project to allow 200 low-income students in failing public schools scholarships to attend school elsewhere.

The budget also expands the Medicaid rolls by 104,000 by allowing the federal government to take over costs, Christie said.

The budget also makes a $1.6 billion payment to the public employee pension system, a commitment the administration made when landmark pension and health benefits changes were enacted two years ago.

Now according to this:

Gov. Chris Christie is once again raiding the state’s clean energy fund, this time diverting $210 million from the program that pays to help residents and businesses save money on their utility bills by reducing energy consumption.

The move is not all that surprising. Christie has raided a variety of clean energy funds since taking office, shifting $52 million to help balance the state budget last year. It is a tactic first used by Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, who siphoned off $30 million in his last budget.

The money is raised by a surcharge on gas and electric bills for virtually all customers, amounting to about $5 per month for residential customers. But it can exceed $1 million for larger commercial and industrial firms, which use a lot of energy. Last year, the surcharge raised $379 million for the clean energy program.

The program typically fails to spend all of the money it collects, a failing criticized by a task force set up by the Board of Public Utilities that explored ways to cut customers’ energy bills.

In his first three budgets, the Governor has diverted approximately $620 million in clean energy money into the general fund.

With New Jersey suffering from some of the highest electric bills in the country, clean energy advocates and energy experts say the best way to reduce those costs is to reduce energy consumption through energy efficiency projects funded by the program.

David Pringle, campaign director for the New Jersey Environmental Federation, a group that endorsed Christie in his gubernatorial campaign, said,
“It continues a very troubling trend of the governor saying one thing and doing another on campaign promises to combat global warming and to promote green jobs,” Pringle said.

So then why collect the money in the first place if it’s not being used for its intended purpose.

In that case, call it what it is…a tax.

And let’s face it. Can’t that 5 bucks a month be put to better use in your pocket than in a state “trust fund” that can be raided for whatever purpose?


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