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Amendment 4 backers want voters to see the light

in Statewide/Top Headlines by

Using a favorite joke, state Sen. Jeff Brandes said he had brought together “the Baptists and the bootleggers” in support of his proposed solar-energy constitutional amendment.

Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, led a news conference Thursday at Tallahassee’s Florida Press Center.

“This is something Republicans and Democrats have come together on,” he told reporters. “It’s about our environment; it’s about jobs … businesses, residents and tourists will all benefit.”

Florida for Solar, Inc., the committee behind Amendment 4, is doing a final publicity push for the initiative that’s on the Aug. 30 primary ballot.

The amendment would amount to a tax break: It would exempt solar power equipment on homes from being counted toward a house’s value for property tax purposes.

It also would exempt from taxation solar energy devices on commercial and industrial properties. Those tax breaks would begin in 2018 and last for 20 years.

In a rare coup, it’s brought together environmentalists and the business lobby.

“It’s great for the economy, and the environment is our economy in Florida,” said Aliki Moncrief of Florida Conservation Voters. “Voters really do want this, and we just want to make sure they’re aware. We’re pretty confident that if they have the opportunity to support solar and clean air, they will, in fact, do that.”

According to a recent statewide Florida poll by Saint Leo University’s Polling Institute, Amendment 4 is supported by 68 percent of the public, opposed by 7 percent, with 25 percent unsure.

Nonetheless, an opposition group has formed to oppose the measure, saying the ballot question is a “rejection of free market principles.”

“Voters are tired of big government cronyism where legislators and lobbyists play favorites by manipulating the tax code for their friends,” conservative activist Jason Hoyt said this week.

Richard Turner, general counsel and vice-president of government relations for the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, disagrees. Florida lags behind other states concerning solar power, he said.

“We are, after all, the Sunshine State,” he said. “If you don’t believe this is a good idea, look around the room. This is a very diverse group.”

The amendment’s website is at http://floridaforsolar.com. A link to a Periscope video of the news conference is here.

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Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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