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Lawmakers will raise money for solar proposal on Aug. 30 ballot

Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and two other lawmakers are launching a new political committee to raise money for a solar energy proposal on Florida's statewide Aug. 30 primary ballot.

Known as Amendment 4, the proposed constitutional amendment would give tax breaks to owners of commercial and industrial property that install solar or renewable energy devices. A similar tax abatement for residential property already exists in the Constitution. The proposal is not to be confused with a separate and controversial utility-backed initiative that will appear on the November general election ballot.

Brandes announced Tuesday that he and Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, and Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, will also help raise money for the as-yet unnamed political committee. "We want more solar and less taxes, and hopefully that has struck a chord with the people of Florida," said Brandes, who called taxes on such devices a "barrier" to solar development.

"It's a good thing," said Susan Glickman of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, which supports Amendment 4. Glickman said that reaching the 60 percent support of voters requires polling, direct mail and other forms of messaging that costs a lot of money — including reminding Florida's rapidly growing pool of unaffiliated voters that they can vote on constitutional amendments on a closed primary ballot.

"It might be easier to communicate with those voters who vote regularly in primaries," Glickman said.

Supporters include major pro-business groups such as the Florida Retail Federation, Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Julio Fuentes, president and CEO of the Hispanic Chamber, said Tuesday: "Providing businesses the opportunity to take advantage of tax fairness for solar development is a good thing."

The tax break proposal had universal bipartisan support in the Legislature in 2016, but some lawmakers opposed putting it on the primary ballot when voter turnout is much lower. One such critic, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, said that was done at the request of utilities that don't want the solar tax break on the same ballot as the other utility-backed initiative that critics say sounds pro-solar, but isn't.

It's unusual, but not unprecedented, for a proposed constitutional amendment to be put before voters on a primary ballot. It happened last in 2008 when then-Gov. Charlie Crist championed a property tax proposal known as Amendment 1 that received 64 percent of the vote on a presidential preference primary ballot.