Coronavirus stimulus political games are an insult to taxpayers

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A new report projects that it could take as many as four years to recover the 22 million jobs lost at the hands of the coronavirus shutdowns, a devastating blow to too many struggling families.

With the stated goal of mitigating economic damages, Congress is deep in negotiations for a new stimulus and spending package. Unfortunately for constituents, not everyone in Congress has selfless motivations.

While lives and livelihoods are at stake, some lawmakers are exploiting this opportunity to fund their pet projects, including loading the stimulus package with tax incentives for unreliable “green” energy programs, a move Congress should forcefully reject.

Though renewable advocates claim that wind and solar projects will create an avalanche of new jobs, reality tells a different story. Wind and solar produce relatively few, and surprisingly low-paying, jobs, many of which are temporary. In Texas, a state lauded by renewable advocates for leading in wind capacity, renewable tax abatements require there to be between 10 and 25 jobs created, though that requirement is waived for most projects.

Ironically, expanding renewable energy subsidies threatens to harm our economy, not bolster it. Granting special treatment to intermittent, expensive energy sources weakens our electric grid and needlessly raises the cost of electricity. This harms public health in the long run because struggling families are forced to choose between spending their last dollars on putting food on the table, refilling prescriptions, or paying utility bills. More than 7 million families said in a 2015 survey that they faced the difficult choice between paying energy bills or sustaining adequate heating and cooling in their homes.

Furthermore, the results of previous stimulus initiatives related to energy suggest that these proposals would not be effective toward the stated goal of stimulating the economy in a time of crisis. Spending from the Section 1603 green energy program of the 2009 stimulus program didn’t peak until 2013, and some was disbursed as late as 2018. If history repeats itself, as is likely, all that pork will be too little, too late. Laid-off employees and struggling small-business owners need to make ends meet today, not four years from now.

Regardless of your opinion on renewable energy subsidies, the reality is that COVID-19 is an immediate threat. Climate change is not. It may never be. Global climate-related deaths have declined 98.9% in the last century, and humanity is growing more and more resilient, thanks to the availability of affordable, reliable energy. The best science suggests our climate will remain mild and manageable as technology and resiliency continue to improve.

Meanwhile, more than 300,000 Americans have lost their lives from the coronavirus. Many more are at risk, and more still are facing financial devastation. Our elected leaders should prioritize changes that will actually benefit their constituents, such as cutting the payroll tax, overhauling the Food and Drug Administration, and others outlined in the Texas Public Policy Foundation’s Recovery Agenda.

Taking advantage of a national emergency to pursue a political agenda is unconscionable and immature political opportunism at a time when our communities are at risk. People are looking to their leaders for decisive action to continue fighting COVID-19 and mitigating the financial hardship affecting so many small and large businesses. Sneaking pork-barrel spending on programs that will provide no relief from the economic strain of the coronavirus is an affront to the taxpayers’ trust and their hard-earned dollars.

This is no time for political games. Congress should oppose any stimulus proposals that carve out special treatment for or bail out energy companies, or any industry, and focus on responsibly stewarding our tax dollars. But don’t hold your breath for that to happen.

Jason Isaac is director of Life:Powered, a national initiative of the Texas Public Policy Foundation to raise America’s energy IQ. He previously served four terms in the Texas House of Representatives.

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