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After veto threat and pushback, Precourt to modify PSC reform plan

Rep. Stephen Precourt told the Herald/Times today that when the House Energy and Utilities Committee hears the Public Service Commission reform bill in committee tomorrow, it will be substantially revised "based on the feedback from the PSC and from the governor.'' More on the original bill here.

On Friday Gov. Charlie Crist said he'd veto the House proposal if it passed in its current form. On Monday, PSC Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano responded to Precourt's request for comment and pulled no punches. In a letter, she said the proposal which removes the technical staff from the PSC and puts it under the control of the legislature "seriously debases decision-making.'' Other provisions, she said, "would stifle discussions by commissioners in public forums" and inhibit the commission's ability to determine whether utility companies are prudently spending their money.

"I have received the proposed legislation, and would note that the fundamental resaon for the existence of a Public Service Commission -- reconciling the tension between providers and consumers of essential products and service in a monopoly environment -- appears to have been either overlooked or disregarded,'' Argenziano wrote. Download Letter to Precourt - 3.22.2010

She also blamed legislators for "chronic foraging for campaign contributions" from the regulated industries for the main problems surrounding the PSC. "It drives ex-parte communications" and the rush for jobs from the PSC into the utility industry. And she blamed legislators for threatening the PSC budget if it didn't rule according to their wishes.

Precourt wouldn't comment on the specifics of the letter but has agreed to "minor as well as major tweaks. the bill we hear from will be a lot improved. It's a work in progress."

Among the changes: moving the technical staff from being an arm of the legislature to another entity; emphasizing that the PSC will retain a technical staff and clarifying that the executive director can have the advisory staff opt out of only administerial issues before the PSC, not major policy issues and changing the length of a commissioner's term from six to four years.

The goal, Precourt said, is to have the PSC's technical staff operate more like prosecutors while the PSC operates likes judges. "We don't want the prosecutors working for the judges,'' he said.

More from Argenziano's letter:

* "There can be no confidence by the citizens of this state in the operation of the PSC, knowing that the PSC labors under the direction of the legisature accepting millions from those regulated."

* "Examples of the actions by legislators which have threatened or hampered the PSC in the execution of
its responsibilities include: threatening the PSC budget because of a vote to not permit a coal plant in
a Senator’s district; demanding specific outcomes in water rate cases; suggesting to a Commissioner’s
aide the need to have a Commissioner back off an issue regarding a PSC employee’s improper
behavior; expressing dissatisfaction with a Commissioner’s vote by a member of the PSC Nominating
Council, effectively chastising him and suggesting retribution upon the Commissioner for exercising
the statutorily required independence."