The diversion of clean-energy money to help balance the next state fiscal-year budget is an annual rite of early summer in the State House. Over the past 10 budgets, more than $1.3 billion has been diverted from efforts to promote renewable energy such as solar power and programs to cut energy use.
This year promises more of the same, with the Christie administration initial budget proposal recommending taking $121 million (so far) out of the clean-energy fund, which is supported by a monthly surcharge on customers’ electric and gas bills. While a few legislators have railed about the diversions, they have, in the end, gone along with the tactic, much to the annoyance of clean-energy advocates.
The state Division of Rate Counsel and some lawmakers are upset by the practice for other reasons. The state should not collect as much money for the clean energy fund from ratepayers if it cannot spend the money. The administration has vowed to have less-robust year-end balances, but still is projecting to leave $156 million at the end of the next fiscal year. That kind of money is an easy target for officials when the alternatives are painful spending cuts or unpopular tax increases.
The nonpartisan Office of Legislature Services provided an accounting of just how much money has been spent by the clean-energy program and how much has been diverted in a fiscal analysis of the proposed budget for the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, the administrator of the fund. The practice began in the Corzine administration. The amounts in bold represent the diversions to the general fund.
1. $15.3 million (FY2008)
In this year, the surcharge raised $378 million for the fund, which spent $147 million. It left a balance of $215.8 million to carry over for the next fiscal year.
2. $10.9 million (FY2009)
The money raised by the surcharge increased to $463.6 million, but the program only expended $154.7 million, leaving a balance of $298 million.
3. $198.8 million (FY2010)
With resources of $595.6 million, the program spent $203 million. The carryover was $193.8 million.
4. $53.7 million (FY2011)
There was $497 million available this budget cycle; the program used $226 million. The balance was $217 million.
5. $255 million (FY2012)
A record year on two counts: The program had resources of $633.7 million, the most ever, and it spent $266 million, another high mark. Its carryover totaled $112.5 million.
6. $133 million (FY2013)
There was $493 million available and the program spent $193.9 million. The carryover was $165.9 million.
7. $273.6 million (FY2014)
A record for general-fund transfers. The resources were $543.7 million with program expenditures of $167 million. The balance left was $102.9 million.
8. $136 million (FY2015)
The resources amounted to $447.8 million; $136 million in expenditures were recorded. The carryover was $124 million.
9. $121 million (FY2016 estimated)
The money was used to pay energy bills at state government buildings and at New Jersey Transit. There was $469 million available and $197.9 million spent. The carryover was $150.8 million.
10. $121 million (FY2017 estimated)
With a caveat: Since the governor introduced his budget, he proposed using another $20 million in clean-energy funds for general purposes. The resources are projected at $495.7 million, with $218 million in expenditures and a year-end balance of $156.7 million.