Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Free Means You Don't Have to Pay

By Dan Morrison

My home state of Connecticut has figured out that the projected budget surplus, which became a projected budget deficit, will actually be a surplus again. That’s pretty good news. Maybe it went from projected deficit back to surplus because they cut a few million here and there after the initial surplus projection was scaled back. And I suppose, that’s the fiscally responsible thing to do: when it looks like my paycheck will be a little short for the month, I don’t generally whip out a credit card, I look for places to cut back. Working from home is my favorite option, but sometimes the wine and beer budget just has to take a hit.

A rainy day fund looking for an umbrella
Now that Connecticut has a little extra cash, they’re (we’re?) looking for ways to spend it. Naturally, the folks who got trimmed want some of their money back. This seems fairly reasonable. One thing that the legislature and Governor are talking about is home heating aid for low income families. They want to give folks money to buy heating oil (or gas, or electricity) this winter because the price of energy is so high and Connecticut gets cold in the winter. On the surface, this sounds like another reasonable idea -- poor folks ought to be able to keep from freezing. But what it really amounts to is a big subsidy for big oil companies -- “Raise your prices all you want, the government will foot the bill so that people continue to pump oil into the side of their houses.”

A radical idea: use less oil and gas
CT spent over $24 million last year on energy assistance (more than $13 million came from the Federal Government) Will it happen again next year? Yes. Is it likely to happen indefinitely? It’s a good bet. $24 mil is quite an annual gift to the oil and gas companies (The Feds donated $450 million last year). We’re spending millions of dollars every year on energy Band-Aids. By spending money once on home energy audits, air sealing, duct sealing, and insulating, we could cut the energy use in CT homes by a bunch -- 40% isn’t unreasonable at all. It would reduce our dependence on foreign oil, put money in people’s pockets (or rather stop pulling it out), lower air pollution, decrease oil spills (did you hear about the 400,000 gallon oil spill near New Orleans last week?) and create green jobs to boot. Everyone’s a winner. Well, almost everyone.

If we’re going to dig our way out of the energy mess we’re in, we need to look long term and weigh options honestly. Home energy assistance programs may help families in the short term, but they keep families, states, and our country (Land of the Free) shackled to big energy bills in the long term.

Free means you don’t have to pay.

--Dan Morrison is managing editor of

No comments: