FRANKFORT — A coalition of business leaders is urging Kentucky lawmakers to shelve a bill that would require that members of the Public Service Commission be elected instead of appointed.
Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President Dave Adkisson said Wednesday the legislation would politicize the process for setting electricity rates, hurting the state's businesses.
"Elections could create an environment in which public service commissioners running for re-election could be influenced more by political contributions and out-of-state interests than the evidence in utility cases," Adkisson said. "If this bill passes, it will be open season for political contributions, and businesses across Kentucky will have no option but to play in that arena."
The legislation, which passed the Senate last week and now is awaiting action in the House, would expand the commission from three members to seven.
Elected to staggered four-year terms, commission members would be chosen from each of Kentucky's six congressional districts. The seventh member would represent the state at large.
Sen. Ray Jones, D-Pikeville, said he proposed the measure after Eastern Kentucky residents were hit last year with a 17 percent electric rate increase. He said that increase was followed by one of the coldest winters in modern history, generating exorbitant monthly utility bills, especially for the elderly and others on fixed incomes.
The Public Service Commission has taken no position on the legislation. However, spokesman Andrew Melnykovych has said that every state with an elected commission has higher electric rates than Kentucky.
Greg Higdon, head of the Kentucky Association of Manufacturers, said the current system of appointing PSC members works well, especially considering that Kentucky has some of the lowest utility rates in the country.
Higdon, a former state senator, said the bill calls for radical change in public policy that he fears could create instability in Kentucky's utility rates, which could stymie growth in manufacturing. The Senate had passed the bill "with little debate," he said, and he urged the House not to follow suit.
Tom FitzGerald, head of an organization that represents low-income consumers in utility rate cases, joined Kentucky's business representatives in calling for the defeat of the legislation. FitzGerald, with the Kentucky Resources Council for more than 25 years, said no evidence suggests electing members to the PSC would lead to lower rates.