SB160 Is Bad Policy, Reduces Representation, and Grows Bureaucracy

Although it is not rare for a Republican to introduce a bill that’s better off left for Democrats, it’s still unfortunate. That’s what SB160 amounts to, sponsored by Douglas Kary (R-SD22). Not only does the bill reduce the “consent of the governed” by eliminating direct elections for Public Service Commissioners, it increases the size of unelected Helena bureaucracy. And even worse, it potentially places control of the PSC into the hands of who one day will likely be a Democrat governor.

WHAT IS THE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION?

The Public Service Commission is one of the smallest and least-expensive agencies in the Montana State government. Divided into five districts across the state, each district votes for one commissioner to serve their district. The commissioners advocate for the utility rate-payer with the states’ various private-owned public utilities. The commissioners oversee electric, natural gas, water, waste-water, and legacy telecommunication companies and balance the needs of rate-payers with the need for expanding services. They also regulate taxi services, pipelines, and the railroad industry.

WHY ARE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSIONERS ELECTED?

From 1907, Public Service Commissioners were elected statewide and in 1974, they began to be elected by district (they also increased commissioners from three to five that year). The reason they are elected is clear; utility, energy, and rail infrastructure are expensive and take decades to become efficient. If the Public Service Commissioners were appointed by the state governor, it is highly likely that Montana’s energy industry would be subject to the political whims of partisan politics, which would have catastrophic consequences for the stability of these important industries. Because elections of PSC Commissioners are staggered, it is much less likely that the state’s energy goals and industry would be adversely affected by a single election, allowing rate-payers to have predictable, sustainable stability and energy independence.

WHY WOULD POPULAR ELECTIONS FOR THE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION BE REPEALED

We are unaware the reasoning behind Senator Kary’s legislation, but we hope that he will grant the Montana Daily Gazette an interview to explain himself. Ostensibly, one reason could be a long saga of dramatic events caused by a bizarre coalition between PSC Commissioner Roger Koopman and Montana’s liberal media, made most evident by a series of Yellow Journalism articles this year published by the Billings Gazette. It could be that some Republicans are tiring of what they perceive to be a source of unnecessary drama.- Advertisement –

Kary is not a RINO Republican according to his Legistats score. The senator has an A rating from the impartial party loyalty scorecard aggregator. But that Kary seems to be a conservative has other conservatives raising their eyebrow at a move that would disempower the commission and place its oversight into the hands of who might one day be a Democrat governor.

WHY DOES REPEALING ELECTIONS FOR PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSIONERS SEEM LIKE AN EXTREMELY BAD IDEA?

After having a Democrat governor from 2005 to 2020, Montana has a lot to be thankful for in regard to how the Public Service Commission currently operates. As states like California can testify, giving the governor’s office oversight of the energy and utility industry will usually lead to unfathomable rate increases in the name of environmental extremism. While Governor Gianforte will almost certainly reject environmental extremism, there is no guarantee that the next governor will seriously consider the needs of industry and the consumer over and against catastrophizing environmental predictions.

WE NEED THE PSC NOW MORE THAN EVER

The Public Service Commission began as an attempt to ensure that railroads were treating all their customers equally and not discriminating against some while profiting others. Because monopolies must be regulated in a free market, the PSC should be given an active role more similar to their original function than dealing with utility rates, and that’s regulating Big Tech corporations who are granted the privileges of utilities under U.S. Law.

Bills are now being written and will be proposed this session that will place regulatory control of Big Tech’s censorship machines under the regulatory oversight of the PSC. Hopefully, the PSC will be able to curtail their power and ensure they aren’t practicing viewpoint discrimination against their Montana customers.

This is not the time to grow state bureaucracy by making the PSC unelected.

Now is not the time to remove the direct representation of the PSC from a state as vast as Montana.

Now is not the time to give up what could be the most important function for the PSC in years to come.

SB160 is bad policy, increases the size of Helena’s bureaucracy, and removes the consent of the governed while limiting the power of our Citizenship.

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