NextEra Energy, the parent company of Florida Power & Light (FPL), was forced into the spotlight today as shareholders challenged the company’s request for a rate hike while making nearly $7 billion in profits over the last three years and paying no federal income taxes.
Outspoken shareholders put chairman and CEO Lewis Hay III on the hot seat during the annual shareholder meeting. Mr. Hay answered many of the questions, but got frustrated when asked about paying no federal income taxes. He admitted that NextEra had paid no federal income taxes, but was disingenuous when he put the onus for that on the federal tax system. As Mr. Hay tried to move forward in the agenda about 10 shareholders stood up in unison. They unfurled a $2.4 billion past due tax bill, revealed T-shirts reading “Pay Your Fair Share,” and filed out chanting the same. The shareholder meeting was suspended for about 10 minutes. The departing shareholders joined more than 40 protesters outside, who came from as far away as Miami to get their message heard.
FPL/NextEra Energy, the most profitable corporation in South Florida, is the quiet giant of the energy business, operating in 22 states. While FPL/NextEra paid zero federal income taxes, it received tax breaks of $42 million, for an effective tax rate of negative 2 (two) percent over the last three years.
FPL/NextEra said their tax payments were within the law, which is correct, but they spent nearly $13 million in lobbying fees and financing political campaigns to enable the passage of favorable laws. FPL/NextEra Energy proudly told the press that they pay local and state taxes, as if they are doing everyone a favor. They pay the most state and local taxes because they make the most profit. They also said they created jobs, but at FPL here in Florida the workforce has dropped by 900 in the last three years.
“Our public schools continue to face budget cuts and, as the recent FCAT test results show, it is beginning to take a toll on the quality of our children’s education,” said Cheryle Davis- Darrell, an FPL customer and retired teacher. “Just think how our schools and other vital programs in the state could benefit from the $2.4 billion in federal taxes that FPL didn’t pay over the last three years.”
To add insult to injury, FPL/NextEra is asking for a rate increase of $690 million annually, which includes collecting for future income taxes. FPL/NextEra, like other tax-dodging utility companies, triple dips into taxpayers’ pockets – first collecting income tax payments as part of customer rates, then deferring or otherwise avoiding tax payments while using taxpayer money as an interest-free loan, and finally, by requesting subsequent rate hikes without first paying income taxes.
Protestors are angry with the proposed rate increase that squeezes even more from the 99% who are struggling to make ends meet while CEO Lewis C. Hay III earned more than $43 million in the last three years.
“By asking for a rate increase, you will force senior citizens to suffer through the sweltering summer barely using air conditioning, cut their prescription pills in half, and do without food, so that you can make even more profit,” said Tony Fransetta, a shareholder and the President of the Alliance for Retired Americans. “It is disgraceful that you pay no federal income taxes, get tax breaks and still want to take more from those on a fixed income.”
Friday’s action comes on the heels of a wave of high-visibility protests by the 99% at the shareholder meetings of major corporations including GE, Verizon, Wells Fargo, Bank of America and DTE Energy.