Democrats Looking to Take Bigger Bite Out of Clean-Energy Fund Than GOP

Since Christie took office, more than $1B has been diverted from fund -- by the administration and the Legislature

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The Legislature is once again tapping into New Jersey’s clean-energy funds to help pay for government operations.

Under a budget plan unveiled late Tuesday, Democratic lawmakers argued for raiding $190 million from the fund — more than the $152 million originally proposed.

The money would be primarily used to help pay for energy expenses at state facilities.

The appropriation of clean energy funds — a pool of money created by a surcharge on residents’ and businesses’ gas and electric bills — has been a source of contention for the past few years as both the Christie administration and the Legislature have diverted money repeatedly to help balance the state budget.

Since Gov. Chris Christie took office, approximately $1 billion in ratepayers’ money has gone to plug holes in the budget, a practice that began on a smaller scale in the administration of former Gov. Jon Corzine.

Clean-energy advocates and environmental groups have long railed against the diversions, but have been unable to stop the money from being raided. The Democratic proposal is up for vote today in both houses of the Legislature.

“It’s like a potato chip,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, who has called the reallocation of the money a hidden tax. “Once you eat one, you eat the whole bag.’’

Under the Democrats’ proposed budget, $52.5 million of the money diverted from the clean-energy fund would pay for utility costs at state facilities, even more than $42 million proposed by the governor and his budget, according to figures released by the state Office of Legislative Services (OLS).

The legislative proposal also would siphon off $32.9 million from the fund to pay utility costs at NJ Transit.

Another $2 million would be tapped to support the state Department of Environmental Protection’s Office of Sustainability and Green Energy, although that is less than the $3.7 million recommended by the Governor.

The diversions have come under fire from clean-energy advocates who say they are jeopardizing the state’s efforts to promote renewable energy and curb energy use through energy efficiency programs.

The surcharges have long been criticized by business interests, who note some companies pay more than $1 million a year just on the fees, not including the energy they use.

The New Jersey Board of Public Utilities also has been faulted for collecting more money from ratepayers than it can expend in a given year, leaving a pot of money that is too tempting to ignore to be used for other purposes by lawmakers and administrations faced with budget problems

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