Friday, February 28, 2014

Nebraska Public Service Commission…Necessary or Nuisance?

Bryan Baumgart - 2/28/2014
A seat at Nebraska’s Public Service Commission has become a highly coveted position 
“It is not a high-profile job, but it's described by some as one of the best elected positions in state government. It comes with a $75,000-a-year salary. And if history is any indication, the job could turn into a lifetime gig.” –Robynn Tysver, Omaha World Herald, 1/19/2014
The PSC is a constitutionally created executive body established under Article IV, Section 20 of the Nebraska Constitution.
The PSC was initially created by the Legislature in 1885 to regulate railroads. In 1906 a constitutional amendment made the Commission a three member elected Railway Commission. Membership was increased to five Commissioners in 1964 and the state was divided into five districts, each to elect a commissioner.
The Commission could be described in three words:


Today the Commission regulates telecommunications carriers, natural gas jurisdictional utilities, major oil pipelines, railroad safety, household goods movers and passenger carriers, grain warehouses and dealers, construction of manufactured and modular homes and recreational vehicles, high voltage electric transmission lines, and private water company rates. The Commission also oversees and administers several statutorily created funds with specific legislative purposes and goals including the Nebraska Universal Service Fund, the Enhanced Wireless 911 Fund, and the Nebraska Telecommunications Relay System Fund.

High Salaries:

The $75,000-a-year-salary makes the position one of the highest paid government positions in the state, just below those of the state auditor and state treasurer and considerably higher than the $12,000 paid to state senators making laws for the entire state. While the gig is considered fulltime and members are prohibited from engaging in other occupations, admittedly the duties are less than time consuming.
“While the position is intended to be full time, there have been times in the past when there were commissioners who were not as active or dedicated to the job.” --Current PSC Chairman Frank Landis.

Commissioners have become a prime target for lobbyists, pulling in 76 percent of campaign contributions from the industries they regulate. That doesn’t look to change anytime soon. Under legislation passed in 2011 the PSC is granted the authority to approve major oil pipelines. With possible decision making authority over the highly controversial Keystone XL pipeline, expect the PSC to be targeted heavily by lobbyists on both sides.

The question that remains…

Is the Public Service Commission a necessity any longer or is it an unnecessary expense to Nebraska taxpayers? Could the duties better be handled by other entities? With over $27 million dollars spent by special interests lobbying Nebraska lawmakers in 2013 alone, is the Commission prone to corruption?

Could Nebraska’s taxpayers be better served by ending the PSC through a Constitutional Amendment?

I think it’s time for a serious discussion.

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