The Office of Consumers’ Counsel (OCC), which represents residential utility customers, has announced that budget cuts have already forced the agency to lay off 30 employees, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
Ohio’s new state budget calls for spending $5.6 million on the OCC in the fiscal year that began July 1 and $4.1 million the following year. Those amounts are down from $8.5 million each year of the previous budget.
Gov. Kasich used a projected deficit to justify many budget cuts, but the Consumers’ Counsel does not affect the deficit since it is funded by fees that utilities pay.
A spokesman for the OCC predicted the deep cuts would lead to higher utility bills because the agency will lack the resources needed to battle the politically potent, well-financed utilities.
Higher rates could hurt Ohio’s business climate. A 2010 study by Deloitte, lists “energy costs and policies” among the top drivers of global manufacturing competitiveness. Today, energy costs in Ohio are about 10 percent below the national average.
When the Kasich budget debuted, spokesman Rob Nichols said the cut was necessary because the agency duplicates services provided by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio – a justification The Plain Dealer of Cleveland said, “reflects a fundamental lack of knowledge about utility regulation in Ohio that Kasich’s team had better correct, forthwith. ‘’
The PUCO has a reputation for being too deferential to utilities. Earlier this year, the PUCO rejected a compromise agreed to by a central Ohio utility and its customers – then issued a ruling even more generous to the utility.