PSC back at work; Barbour signs bills

JACKSON – About 90 furloughed employees of the Public Service Commission and of the Public Utilities Staff were back at work Monday even before Gov. Haley Barbour signed into law legislation funding the two agencies.
Legislators met Friday in a one-day special session to fund the two agencies that were left unfunded when the new fiscal year began on July 1.
Northern District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley said the employees of the two agencies were allowed to return to work because they were told Barbour would most likely sign their appropriations bills.
He did Monday afternoon.
Most of the PSC staff was furloughed because the Legislature did not pass a budget for the two agencies.
“It was a nightmare,” Presley said. “I hope to forget it. Words do not describe it.”
The three-elected Public Service commissioners regulate most of the state’s utilities. The Public Utilities Staff is a separate agency that advises the commission.
The two agencies were left unfunded by the Legislature because of a conflict on whether to authorize more employees for the commissioners.
The new employees would help them make determinations on whether to grant utility companies’ rate increase requests. The House supported the commission”s request. The Senate did not.
During the Friday special session, a compromise was crafted providing the commission with an additional $280,000 to fill three vacant positions with employees who have the technical expertise in auditing utility companies.
Presley said the compromise will grant him and his two fellow commissioners more information to help them to better regulate the utility companies.
Presley said money was placed in the budget bills to provide pay for employees for the days they missed work. But the employees will have to use either personal leave or comp time to claim the pay.
Most all employees of both agencies were furloughed on the advice of Attorney General Jim Hood. He ruled that some members of the Public Service Commission staff should remain on the job to perform the agency’s core, constitutional function.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal