House wants Public Service Commission to have more control, accountability

By Jon Kalahar

The Public Service Commission's investigation into fuel adjustment charges led to the discovery that the commission might not be doing enough to regulate the state's public utilities.

But a bill passed by the state house is the first step to keeping utility rates in check.

"We made a mistake, we, this body, made a mistake back in 1990 or '91. We did an overkill," said Rep. Tyrone Ellis, (D) Starkville.

It's not often you hear lawmakers admit to making a wrong decision. But that's what proponents of the house bill to re-join the public service commission to the public utilities staff did to make their argument.

"We probably over reacted if the truth be told back then, because we had one or two commissioners that was headed to the pokey when this was done," said Rep. Steve Holland, (D) Plantersville.

Now they say the public service commission is toeing the line so to speak. Commissioner Lynn Posey says they need the extra staff to protect rate payers.

"I think the recent thing with Entergy has brought to light the need for some additional audit work to be done," said Posey.

But Representative Mark Baker says the separation was made to stop corruption and fraud in the P-S-C. He says if they need more staff, why don't they ask the legislature for it?

"Now I would submit to you that if the commission does not have enough people to work for them to report to them independent analysis, auditors and people like that then we should do something about that," said Baker.

In fact, Baker says the commission already has the authority and funds to hire whomever they need to complete any audits they see fit. So what do rate payers get in return for commissioner having control of the public utilities staff?

"It's not to throw them out, it's not to do away with them but to restructure it so they will be held accountable by the public service commissioners," said Ellis.

The bill did pass by the way by eleven votes and will now go to the senate for a vote.

But even with the public utilities staff under the commission, to audit some of these utilities as thoroughly as many believe they need to be, the commission will still have to hire an independent auditor.

And that can cost the state lot of money to do that.