By Jennifer Haberkorn
The governor is blocking Biden’s IRA benefits from Floridians. There’s not much Dems can do about it.
President Joe Biden is offering one of his White House challengers hundreds of millions of dollars to spend in his state. The only problem: that opponent is refusing to take it.
The Inflation Reduction Act makes Florida eligible for some $350 million in energy efficiency incentives. But Gov. Ron DeSantis has rejected the funding and other measures, creating the most prominent blockade by any Republican governor against Biden’s economic agenda.
And there’s nothing the White House can do besides hope he changes his mind.
The rejection has the potential to create significant ripple effects, politically and economically, in the coming months. As the president and his Cabinet members go around the country boasting about the IRA, rebates for energy-efficient purchases — the majority of the funding that DeSantis has refused — have played a particularly prominent role. That’s not just because they underpin the administration’s climate agenda but because they provide direct rebates to consumers.
The IRA allows governors the authority to block a handful of its programs, and with it, the power to blunt the political impact of legislation that some Democrats believe will be a key factor in the 2024 election.
Through a veto of his legislature’s request, DeSantis turned down $5 million to set up the rebate program for consumers who buy energy efficient appliances and retrofit their homes. It also effectively blocked $341 million to fund the program because the state would need the administrative money to apply for the program, according to people familiar with Florida’s budget process. However, federal Energy Department rules allow a state to accept the second pot of money even if they don’t take the first. If Florida doesn’t apply for the full $346 million by next August, the law allows DOE to provide Florida’s money to other states.
The governor also rejected $3 million in IRA funds to help the state fight pollution and rebuffed the Solar for All program which would have paid to help low-income people access solar panels. DeSantis also vetoed $24 million in grants from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
So far, DeSantis is the only governor to signal that he will block the energy rebates. But on the smaller sums of money, he has company. He’s one of four to turn down pollution mitigation funding from the IRA. The others are the Republican governors of South Dakota and Iowa, and Kentucky’s governor, who is a Democrat. The states that haven’t appliedfor the solar fund are all led by Republicans. They include Florida, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and South Dakota.
The Biden administration has explored ways around the energy rebate blockade but has come up empty so far, according to federal and state officials. The IRA was written in a way that requires the rebates to go through a state energy office. Unlike many federal laws, there is no federal fallback option or way to circumvent an obstinate governor.
That leaves the Biden administration hoping Florida will reconsider — and that the IRA funding doesn’t snowball into a political litmus test for GOP governors as Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, and the Obama administration’s high speed rail funding, did a decade ago.
So far, the White House hasn’t publicly hit DeSantis by name over the rejection of funds, perhaps in hopes that he changes his mind before time runs out next August.
“It’s unfortunate that some officials are putting politics ahead of delivering meaningful progress for hard working Americans,” said White House spokesman Michael Kikukawa. “Despite this, President Biden and his administration are working with cities, counties, businesses, nonprofits, and other entities in the Sunshine State to ensure Floridians benefit from the lower costs and stronger economy delivered by his agenda.”
There’s reason to think Florida wants the funds: the state’s energy office requested them and the state legislature approved it before DeSantis vetoed a grant for the program.