DENVER – The Democrat-controlled state House will vote Wednesday to add another taxpayer-funded, energy-efficiency program to those administered under Gov. John Hickenlooper’s embattled Colorado Energy Office, which has yet to account for $252 million spent to bolster such programs over the past five years.
After a scathing audit, Republican members requested a mere $5,000 for the state auditor to probe the records and contracts to determine if funds were spent fraudulently. The Democrat members of the Legislative Audit Committee shot down that request last month.
Instead of cutting funds for CEO or demanding accountability for how $252 million was spent, Democrats have pushed to fund the office at its current level, while adding a program that will direct additional money to the beleaguered office.
Joint Budget Committee Chair state Sen. Pat Steadman (D-Denver) told the Democrat caucus on Tuesday that the CEO will maintain its funding level without cuts despite its dismal accounting.
“The Colorado Energy Office had that well publicized mismanagement of funds this year. I’m not sure we want them administering another program,” said state Rep. Justin Everett (R-Littleton), who adamantly opposes funding another energy efficient program.
House Bill 1105, sponsored by state Rep. Max Tyler (D-Lakewood), is one of several bills expanding funding to programs administered by the governor’s office.
This bill would expand an existing program under CEO to award financial incentives to buy new homes that meet Energy Star efficiency standards to include loans to homeowners to improve energy efficiency. The CEO will determine who is eligible for the financial assistance.
“It’s a continuation of a program that has been very successful and it was run out of the Colorado Energy Office,” said Tyler, who described HB 1105 as a “jobs bill.”
“I’m getting a little frustrated” with jobs bills proffered by Democrats, protested state Rep. Lori Saine (R-Dacono). She said the bills either require “taxpayer subsidization, subsidizing whatever program it is, or more government intervention.”
Tyler’s bill would use state taxpayer monies as well as incentives given by financial institutions and utility providers. Yet, the banks would receive reimbursements from taxpayer funds and utility companies, who have not endorsed the bill, could recoup their investment by adding fees to rate payers. The latter could require the approval of the Public Utilities Commission.
The CEO has administered a similar energy-jobs program funded by federal taxpayers under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. According to the Legislative Council’s fiscal analysis, the incentives were applied to 188 mortgages over a period of two years.
HB 1105 would add state taxpayer money to offer financial incentives for homes that utilize solar panels, solar thermal and insulation – but it’s anticipated that money would help just 165 families.
“There’s $500,000 in here from the state,” said Tyler of the startup program money. “This is common public good to do this – to decrease our reliance on fossil fuels.”
The idea is that a person buying an Energy Star-certified home would go to a lender and receive a reduction in the mortgage points or down payment – or gain those incentives on a loan to remodel. The amount value could range between $1,000 and $8,000.
Tyler’s bill stripped caps on previous financial incentive limits under the federal program. And it does not set income guidelines for applicants. Republican legislators said it could reward wealthy Coloradans at the expense of average and limited income citizens who struggle to pay monthly mortgages or rent and utility bills.
“The multi-millionaires don’t need any assistance, but the folks out there that have the least energy efficient homes, which we all know are lower income folks, they’re the ones who need the assistance,” said state Rep. Ray Scott (R-Grand Junction), who opposes the program.
Rep. Spencer Swalm (R-Centennial) echoed Scott’s concerns and pointed greater disparities because in a reversal of Robin Hood lore, the bill “takes from the poor and gives to the rich.”
“We’ll be raising the utility bills on low income renters to help wealthy people buy fancy, energy-saving houses,” said Swalm.
The bill does not help people who do need help to weatherize their homes and pay lower utility bills.
“This is welfare in reverse!” declared Swalm.