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Crist on House PSC reform plan: I will veto it

Gov. Charlie Crist summed up his reaction to the House proposal to reform the Public Service Commission with four simple words: I would veto it.

"It sounds frankly like a gross power grab against the will of the people and consumers,'' he told the Herald/Times. "If the bill in its current form were to pass, I would veto it without a doubt. It’s ridiculous."

He dislikes the provision that strips the PSC of its ability to initiate utility cases. Under the plan, the PSC would act like a judicial panel but its role of initiating rate-making and being the watchdog would go to a separate Office of Regulatory Staff, which would be under the control of the Legislature.

"When you look at staff under the Legislature taking control of these issues, instead of the Public Service Commission, and the fact that the staff can decide not to weigh in on a rate increase and just let it come to pass, it sounds pretty darn bad to me,'' Crist said.

 He suggested that the proposal, which could disqualify one or two of the PSC members Crist has appointed, is a retaliation for their vote against the rate increases sought by Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy -- which allowed the companies to earn the same profits this year as they earned last year.

"It looks like an exact reaction to the fact that the PSC didn’t let those rates go through the roof,'' Crist said.

Members of the House Energy Committee which discussed the House bill at a workshop this week suggested that under the current system the governor has too much influence over the PSC while the Legislature, which controls the nominating process for appointments, does not.

Rep. Steve Precourt, chairman of the committee, said he believes the PSC's role is to balance the interests of the consumer with those of the utility companies to ensure there is reliable and efficient supply of electricity, water and phone service, he said.

Crist responded that he believes the current commission is "doing a very good job at that. That's why I picked the people I picked,'' he said.

By contrast, he said, he supports the Senate bill to tighten the ethics rules regulating commissioners and their staff. That bill, sponsored by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, passed out of the Senate 39-1 during the first week of session. "If they pass that bill, I would sign it," Crist said.