Portman, potential VP pick, treads carefully on wind PTC conflict

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DENVER – Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, thought to be among the leading candidates to be tapped as Mitt Romney’s running mate, became the latest surrogate for the GOP presidential candidate to attempt to square their personal support for the wind energy Production Tax Credit with Romney’s opposition.

Romney came out last week against the renewal of the wind PTC, which would save more than 1,000 Colorado jobs and is supported by eight of nine members of the state’s congressional delegation, including three of four Republicans.

“He will allow the wind credit to expire, end the stimulus boondoggles, and create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits,” Romney’s Colorado spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said in a statement last week.

In an interview with FOX31 Denver Wednesday following a rally at Denver, Portman responded to a question about his position on the PTC by focusing mostly on the area where he and Romney agree, just as another surrogate, Sen. John Thune, R-SD, did with FOX31 on Monday.

“I agree with Gov. Romney on the fact that we need to move to a market-based system,” Portman said. “I also agree with him wholeheartedly that the corporate tax code is a mess and must be reformed. And the way you reform it is you get rid of a lot the subsidies, so-called loopholes that are in the tax code and you lower the rate. And by the way, pretty much everybody who looks at it agrees with that — economists, right, left, even President Obama talked about this in his State of the Union. He has shown no leadership on it.

“One of those tax subsidies is for energy — not just wind, but also solar and also some other energy subsidies for the more traditional forms of energy,” Portman continued.

“We ought to be getting rid of these subsidies, lowering the rates substantially so that we can be competitive in the global economy. Right now, we are losing jobs and losing investment every day. We have the highest tax rate on the world of all the developed countries, and we are losing economic opportunities every day.”

When pressed on whether he supports ending subsidies for big oil companies, which receive around $4 billion in federal subsidies a year, Portman responded: “There are different subsidies. There’s the depletion allowance, there’s also a depreciation issue.

“I want to make sure they’re not punished; in other words, they’re treated like other businesses. But there shouldn’t be special subsidies.”

Pete Maysmith, the executive director of Colorado Conservation Voters, took issue with Portman’s position.

“He can’t have it both ways,” Maysmith told FOX31 Denver. “To say ‘we have to get rid of subsidies but the subsidies for big oil are different and OK’? That doesn’t pass the laugh test. What is good for the goose is good for the gander.  

“To say they are talking out of both sides of their mouths is an understatement.”

Maysmith also seized on Portman’s comment that the economy is currently losing jobs.

“[Portman] said ‘we are losing jobs every day’,” Maysmith said. “That is the exact reason to support the PTC. Cutting it will throw 1,600 real, live Coloradans out of work. This is getting into the surreal, ‘we had to destroy the village in order to save it’ territory.

“Either they are pro-jobs in CO or they aren’t. It is absurd to support ending a popular, bipartisan tax credit and pretend they are pro-job.”

Romney’s campaign took issue with FOX31’s characterization that Portman, by answering the question about supporting the PTC by stating that he agrees with Romney that all subsidies should eventually be repealed, was “softening” his support for the tax credit.

“He has a long record of supporting corporate tax reform, which can especially be seen during his campaign in 2010,” said Matthews in an email Wednesday to FOX31 Denver.

“He also lead Senate Republicans in a jobs plans that called for corporate tax reform, again during the super committee showing how lowering rates by doing away with exemptions and loop holes would make us more competitive. Sen. Portman has drafted deficit neutral tax reform that does just that and is seen as leader in the Senate on this issue,” Matthews continued.

“The position he articulated to you during the interview is not one that has changed as a result of Romney’s position.”

But, to Maysmith, the argument that subsidies for wind production and other new energy industries shouldn’t last forever, isn’t addressing the real matter at hand of whether the wind PTC should be repealed now.

“Even the wind industry agrees that they do not want subsidies in perpetuity,” Maysmith said. “The point is that in order to have a level playing field they have to have support while they are in the start-up phase.”

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