By Matt McCann
With 16 legislative days left to solve the state budget concerns and deregulation problems, time is getting short. I will suggest that the budget and educational issues will find resolution, but I do not believe the legislative or executive branch will act on deregulation. I will be surprised if a deregulation solution is agreed upon.
I believe that perhaps the Capitol environment should be described as it pertains to this issue. For the first sixty days, the lobbyists of PPL, MPC, as well as Northwest Utility, sat and chatted in the Senate halls with various Senators. The energy lobbyists were noticeably absent from lobbying House members. I found this to be interesting, only because big money usually has a plan. The energy lobbyists were, and still are, looking for a foothold in holding captive their position on energy profiteering. Typically, issues of magnitude start in the Senate, but then must always exit the Senate, so finding a receptive and discerning ear in the Senate is a good strategy.
Fortunately, the issue of deregulation crosses party lines. The energy lobby is having trouble containing the impacts of deregulation, particularly with the newspapers visiting the issue almost daily. The support of the majority party is fracturing. The reality of who is going to pay is becoming recognized for who it really is - the people who vote.
To some degree, as time ticks away, senators and representatives are becoming more informed and more comfortable with the idea that something must be done. It is important to note that there are a number of solutions to the deregulation dilemma; however, some are more palatable than others, as some require taxation increases, and other simply require eating a little crow. So, you might ask, "What's new?" Everyone may already be aware of this.
I would suggest that House and Senate legislators who represent MPC consumers will vote to regulate power. House and Senate legislators who represent energy corporations will be somewhat less concerned with the deregulation issue. In other words, all bets are off. Everybody's cards are on the table if you are a politician. A small gust of wind just blew on overheard sentence from the energy lobby this way. It sounded like, "Share the pain!" After hearing that, and some reflection, I think the end result will likely be crafted with that philosophy in mind. If the energy lobby cannot play the game their way, then they will try to find ways to make sure that if they hurt, so do you.
I am encouraged that the Public Service Commission stepped into the arena. I hope they will be impartial and forthright in instructing the industry that Montana is not interested in industry's profiteering. There is room for the energy industry in a stable, predictable, and regulated environment.
If there is some questions as to my position on deregulation, I will describe it as follows: Because electricity is as important as water in Montana, I will vote and argue that electrical rates, and so forth, must be returned to a regulated environment by July 2002.
A side note: I have been asked to work on the House Bill 2 Conference Committee, so my plate will be full until the final session hour.
Hoping for moisture!