Written by: John Snell
NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) –
Mark Fonte believes he made one of the best investments of his life he decided to go solar.
“When the sun’s out, even with the AC on, this little arrow here and the dots will be going the other way,” says Fonte as he points to a meter showing he is sending electricity back to Entergy.
“Saving the environment was not my main motive,” Fonte said from his Kenner home. “Saving Benjamin Franklins was my main motive.”
Fonte took advantage of federal and state tax credits to cut his out of pocket expense for installing the panels to $5,000.
He estimates the savings on his electricity bill at $105 per month.
“I could not figure out any other way to make a $5,000 investment and get $100 a month back on it.”
With state lawmakers staring at a $1.6 billion dollar black hole in the budget, the solar program could be a target for cuts.
“The budget hole is so bad right now, it’s just inconceivable that this $1.6 billion gap can be closed without reducing some of those tax credits,” said Tulane Political Analyst Mike Sherman.
Lawmakers gather at the state capitol Monday for a session that will be dominated by fiscal matters.
Sherman is not expecting a wholesale dismantling of some of the programs. He notes the motion picture tax program could be eyed, though it enjoys wide support among lawmakers in Baton Rouge.
“‘Crisis’ is a cliche word,” Sherman said. “People call ‘crisis’ things that aren’t. This is a genuine crisis.”
Even though the overall budget is much larger– 26 billion dollars– most of it is off limits, shielded from cuts by the state constitution.
The deficit amounts to one-third of all discretionary spending.
“We’re like Thelma and Louise in that car headed toward the cliff,” said State Treasure John Kennedy.
No one feels more like a passenger in that car than the presidents and chancellors of Louisiana’s public colleges and universities, which stand to lose up to 82% of their state monies next year.
“We need to make that very clear in this legislative session, that we’re going to save our institutions,” State Representative Patricia Smith (D-Baton Rouge) said at a committee meeting last week.
Lawmakers heard warnings from higher ed leaders of dire consequences, including a “worst case” scenario of closing some campuses.
“You may be able to look under the cushions for some spare change,” said Dr. Joseph Rallo, Louisiana Commissioner of Higher Education. “But I think we’ve already looked under there.”
Simply raising revenue does not seem much of an option since Governor Bobby Jindal and many lawmakers are on record as opposed to any new taxes.
Tulane’s Sherman says voters should look for some strange coalitions to form among lawmakers searching for a solution.
“For folks that love watching a bunch of charismatic folks in one room coming up with zany conditions, start your popcorn right now,” Sherman said.
Mark Fonte hopes the solar tax credits survive, noting most of the tax breaks today benefit large corporations.
“This is the only tax credit that benefits a consumer.”