Today’s special legislative session deals with only one topic – funding for the Public Service Commission (with three elected members serving from geographic districts set in law) and its employees, and the separate but related Public Utilities Staff, whose chief is appointed by the governor.
In that separation of staff responsibility lies at least a clue about the controversy over funding requests for additional positions on the commission’s staff.
The elected PSC has two first-term members, Northern District Commissioner Brandon Presley, D-Nettleton, and Central District Commissioner Lynn Posey, D-Union Church. Presley is a former Nettleton mayor; Posey is a former legislative utilities committee chairman. Southern District Commissioner Leonard Bentz, a Republican from Biloxi, has three years experience and is a former legislator.
The Public Utilities Staff provides technical analyses and advice to the commissioners, but it is not controlled by the commission. That separation stems directly from a period years ago when criminal corruption was proven within the commission. As a result, the PUS was given virtual autonomy, but it is tied by politics to its director as a gubernatorial appointment for a six-year term.
The three-member PSC in the current term is considered more activist and independent by some observers than past commissions.
“I don’t know why the commissioners would need extra staff. The utilities staff has always told them what orders to write,” Sen. Hob Bryan said sarcastically when questioned about the controversy.
Bryan said the PUS is considered pro-utility, which would fly in the face of a fully independent assessment of the rate orders to which Bryan referred.
Bryan suggested the commission wants extra staff to find out what utilities are up to.
If so, consumers have a vested interest in fully balanced information becoming part of the record on which utility rate decisions and other regulatory decisions are made.
Objectors to adding staff members for the commissioners raise valid points about expenses in lean times.
However, a commission budget allowing the commission to establish its own staffing protocol would allow creation of the necessary expert positions, but it might require internal restructuring. Nobody ever said improvements would be easy decisions. It’s not easy in the private sector, either.
The PSC is a statewide regulatory and oversight body; it operates under an electoral mandate. A double stream of information about its business could raise substantive questions in the public interest.,
Mississippians don’t need more legislative siege mentality about a seemingly easily resolved issue. Fund the staff, the commission and its employees, and let them go to work in the public interest.
NEMS Daily Journal