What you need to know about Ohio Politics and Policy
· April 4, 2011
Innovation Ohio’s Taxpayer Rip-Off of the Week Award
For Immediate Release
April 4, 2011
Contact: Dale Butland
INNOVATION OHIO’S “TAXPAYER RIP-OFF OF THE WEEK AWARD”
The Kasich Utilities Game: Gut the Counsel, Gouge the Consumer
Columbus — Innovation Ohio, a progressive think tank headquartered in Columbus, today kicks off a new feature: the “Taxpayer Rip-Off of the Week Award.”
Awardees will be carefully selected from budget or other public policy proposals advanced by the Kasich Administration, the General Assembly or others that would cause harm to Ohio taxpayers and consumers. Special consideration will be given to proposals that reward the wealthy by sticking it to the middle class.
And now, with no further ado, the first Taxpayer Rip-Off Award winner is… drum roll, please…
SLASHING THE OFFICE OF CONSUMERS’ COUNSEL BUDGET BY OVER 50%
Against stiff competition, this Kasich Administration budget proposal wins for the following reasons:
While cast as a “budget savings measure,” this attack on Ohio’s best known consumer watchdog agency would have absolutely zero impact on the state budget. Not a single cent of the OCC’s entire budget comes from state money; it is funded entirely from fees on utility companies.
The OCC has saved consumers millions of dollars and provided an eye-popping return on investment. On a budget of $17 million, the OCC delivered in Fiscal years 2010 and 2011 nearly $55 million in savings to Ohioans—or a return of $3.22 for every dollar in fee assessments.
By defending its gutting of the OCC on the grounds that the agency is redundant with PUCO (the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio), the Kasich Administration betrayed—in the words of the Cleveland Plain Dealer—“a fundamental lack of knowledge about utility regulation in Ohio.” Or as Ohio newspaper columnist Tom Suddes colorfully puts it: “if the PUCO is a watchdog, it needs dentures.” That’s because while the OCC’s sole mission is protecting Ohio consumers, PUCO’s mission includes protecting the interests of the utilities. (We’re pretty sure that the futility of trying to serve two masters is even mentioned in the Bible)
By slashing the OCC budget more than 50%, the Administration cravenly sacrifices the interests of electric, gas, water and phone customers—individual as well as commercial—on the altar of enlarged profits for the utility industry. Perhaps unsurprising since—as columnist Suddes points out—utility company lobbyists include at least 7 prominent Republican political operatives, some of whom are personally or professionally close to Gov. Kasich himself.
But what makes Gov. Kasich’s proposed de-funding of the Consumers’ Counsel stand out from all the other bad ideas in his budget and elevates it to “award winner” is that it also threatens to sabotage what the Administration says is its own top priority: creating new jobs and bringing new businesses to Ohio. Few things are more important to business location or expansion than affordable and predictable energy prices. Thanks to the OCC’s advocacy for consumers, Ohio’s energy prices have been both. Thanks to the Administration’s advocacy for utility companies, future energy prices in Ohio are likely to be neither.
In short, by gutting the OCC, Gov. Kasich would achieve a “damage trifecta”… a policy that manages to hurt both individual consumers and industrial utility users—while simultaneously making Ohio’s business climate worse and less inviting. Hats off to the winner!
IO Communication Director Dale Butland offered his congratulations:
“If what they’ve done to the Office of Consumers’ Counsel is any indication of what to expect in the future, the Kasich Administration will be hard to beat when it comes to ripping off taxpayers and the middle class. After all, hammering consumers, enriching utility companies, and making it even more difficult to attract new businesses to our state—all while not reducing Ohio’s $8 billion budget deficit by a single dime—is a very tough act to follow.”