The Ohio Farmers Union is urging members to take action this week and contact members of the Ohio General Assembly regarding funding cuts for the Office of the Ohio Consumers Counsel (OCC).
Established in 1976, the OCC was formed to represent residential customer interests in matters regarding their public utility services including, water, natural gas, electric and telephone services.
The OCC serves as the residential consumers’ lawyer in rate cases and other actions which come before the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. When the large utility corporations propose rate changes for instance, the OCC is the statutorily authorized representative of homeowners and family farmers before the PUCO. OCC also provides educational and policy services and operates a residential utility customer call center serving as a problem solver and go-between for citizen consumers and the utility companies.
According to a recent op-ed in the Columbus Dispatch by OCC leader Janine Migden-Ostrander, the OCC has established a solid track record of representing the public’s interest:
During the current budget period, the Consumers’ Counsel, through its direct efforts, has saved customers $54.8 million in potential rate increases. Through its collaboration with other stakeholders, including advocacy organizations for business, senior citizens, low-income residents and others, the Consumers’ Counsel has produced shared savings of $1.9 billion. Often, we have participated in negotiated agreements that have provided benefits that helped keep people connected to their electric or natural-gas service or produced energy-efficiency programs aimed at lowering their utility costs.
Further, when we succeed in reducing rate increases, the benefits flow not only to residential customers but to business and industrial customers, as well. For example, if we negotiate a revenue savings of $10 million in an electric-rate case, 60 percent of those savings go to businesses, small and large. Our work helps to keep energy costs down for all utility customers and, therefore, contributes to job retention and economic development.
So, what’s the problem?
In its budget proposal, the Kasich Administration cut funding for the OCC by more than half – 51.3%. It should be noted that the OCC is not funded by the state’s general revenue fund, but through a formula where its revenue is derived from the combined gross receipts of the state’s utility companies. In short, the Kasich Administration is attempting to change decades of public law – and gut the public’s advocate – by giving a break to the utlities. Additionally, many of the state’s largest utilities have hired one of the governor’s close friends and political associates as their lobbyist in Columbus.
This is corporate interests versus the interests of homeowners and family farmers, pure and simple.
OFU Executive Committee member Joe Logan serves on the OCC Governing Board as an appointed member (representing “family farmers” as stipulated in state law).
When asked last week about the OCC and its budget cut, Logan had this to say:
Apparently, the governor and the Ohio legislature think that our utility bills are too low. They are committed to a proposal that would ham-string the activities of the consumer’s watch dog, the Ohio Consumer’s Counsel.
They are using the pretense of budget concerns to drastically cut the budget of the OCC (51%) , even though the OCC’s budget included zero tax dollars.
The actions of the legislature and the Governor will surely increase the size of electric, gas, phone and water bills, while sending an extra $4 million windfall (OCC’s budget reduction)back to utility company’s profits.
In my opinion, If Ohio’s consumers were aware of this type of chicanery, they would surely vote to throw the bums out!
Please contact your legislator today and let them know you are against cutting funding for the OCC. This proposed cut to the OCC will have no impact on the state’s budget deficit because the money does not come from the state’s general revenue fund.
Additionally, you should contact one or all of the members of the budget conference committee. Both the House and Senate did nothing to preserve the funding for the OCC when the current budget passed both houses. There are differences in the House and Senate bills, though, so the following legislators have been appointed to hash out those differences. Their work will become the final bill.
Members of the budget conference committee:
House – Representatives Ron Amstutz (R), Jon Carey (R), Vernon Sykes (D)
Senate – Senators Chris Widener (R), Shannon Jones (R), Michael Skindell (D)
How to Contact Representatives or Senators – Go to #2, Talk to Your State Legislators