Why Is Rev. Al Sharpton Against Florida's Solar Energy Amendment 4?

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Remember in high school when you were supposed to finish Great Expectations for class the next morning but you left it until the last minute and were finally just like, "nah"? You could think of more interesting things to do, so you did what scores of sophomores had done before you: You read the SparkNotes and avoided eye contact with your teacher and prayed she wouldn't call on you.

That's pretty much what it felt like at a news conference Tuesday morning in Opa-locka, where the Rev. Al Sharpton was flown in to talk about why he's opposing Florida's Amendment 4, a piece of legislation that will be on the ballot August 30. The whole conference felt like everyone had read a summary of a summary of the required reading but was still trying to debate the true cause of Miss Havisham's broken heart.

Essentially, Amendment 4 would allow companies that use solar energy to claim the same tax exemptions homeowners currently can take advantage of. Until now, the amendment had pretty much unanimous support from clean-energy advocates, the business community, and even Florida Power & Light.

But Sharpton and local leaders of his organization, the National Action Network, say it's just another corporate tax break, another example of special treatment for Big Business.

"You're dealing with a governor and a legislature that has dealt with rampant tax cuts, and this is more of the same," Sharpton told reporters.

One reason some businesses might not use solar energy is because solar panels — already a pretty significant investment — raise the assessed property value of a building, leading to a higher tax bill at the end of the year. Amendment 4 would fix that by saying commercial property owners don't have to begin paying those extra taxes until 2038.

If the amendment passes, Sharpton believes, the lost tax revenue would negatively affect minority communities, something New Times was unable to confirm or put a dollar figure on.

"The beneficiaries of this are big businesses who, if they paid their tax on this, it would go toward helping schools from local counties and cities that claim they don't have the budget. It would go to the areas of social services that you claim you don’t have the budget. So you can't at one end say we would be doing a lot of these things that are needed in the inner-city communities in Miami, in Tampa, in Orlando, but then turn around and say we’re going to give Big Business a break," Sharpton said.

But as soon as Local 10 reporter Glenna Milberg began questioning this premise, things got testy. Sharpton wasn't able to say what the impact he's suggesting would actually look like, which is when things took a turn into the nonsensical. "You’d have to ask yourself which companies are going to upgrade themselves in terms of their carbon usage, their carbon renewal, energy renewal program, in order to come to that number. I think the number they're going to have to answer is why they would not be taxed as others would be taxed with any other business," he said. "You’re asking me to prophesize on who’s going to do what with the renewals."

"For the record, I’m just asking questions," Milberg said politely.

"For the record, I hear a whole lot of interpretation in your questions. So we will disagree on your motives," Sharpton responded.

The whole news conference had a decidedly "Who's on First?" feeling, especially at times when Sharpton railed against the trickle-down theory, which he seemed to believe applies to the solar amendment.

"The propaganda that has been put out is because Big Business would get a huge tax break and that this would therefore trickle down to create jobs one day, by and by, when the morning comes. We heard that in 1980 from Reagan. We got the trickle; we never got the down," he said puzzlingly. 

Another reporter from Local 10 later questioned his comment, asking, "Is there any idea as to how much would be trickling down?"

"Trickling down from what?" Sharpton replied.

"We don't know," the reporter said. 

"That's where the confusion lies," Sharpton said, leaving everyone perplexed.

For what it's worth, most major Florida newspapers are endorsing Amendment 4 as a way to get the ball rolling on sustainable energy in the Sunshine State. Sharpton declined to answer questions about Amendment 1, the utilities-backed ballot initiative that Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente has called "the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing" that is "masquerading as a pro-solar-energy initiative." That'll be on a separate ballot in November. 

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