THE LEGISLATURE MUST ACT TO PROTECT CONSUMERS FROM HUGE BILL INCREASES WHEN THE CAPS COME OFF ELECTRIC RATES. Remarks on the Floor of the Senate, September 18, 2008.
As all of you know, I did not expect to be in Harrisburg this week, but since I am able to be here I want to speak for a few moments about an issue that will soon have an impact on every person in Pennsylvania.
Politicians make a lot of speeches. I certainly have made my share on this floor, but every now and then we have a chance not just to talk, but to act in a direct fashion to help people.
We have that opportunity before us right now.
The United States financial markets are in turmoil. Our economy seems to be sinking. By one estimate that I heard last night, $1.2 trillion dollars of wealth in this country has been wiped out over the past three days. Undoubtedly, that includes some of the hard-earned savings, or investments, or retirement nest eggs of many Pennsylvanians.
As we sit here in the Pennsylvania Senate, we donít have the power to do very much about the meltdown on Wall Street, and we canít correct the lax regulation in Washington that got us into this mess. We canít do much about the crisis in the national credit markets, or undo the subprime mortgage lending mistakes.
But we can take action on a simple matter that affects the checkbook of every family in our commonwealth, as well as every business -- large or small -- that pays an electric bill.
We can do something to prevent our citizens from being hit with enormous and unfair electric rate increases.
Governmentís purpose is to help people who canít help themselves. The American spirit of rugged individualism has served this country well, and it has an important place in our history and in our future. But there are occasions when the average citizen is powerless, and that is when government must step in.
The truth is: there is almost nothing that Pennsylvanians can do to help themselves when it comes to paying their deregulated electric bill. Yes, they can do a little. They can adjust the thermostat a few degrees or wash their laundry at off-peak hours, but that wonít come close to making up for the huge rate hikes that they are about to experience. They are at the mercy of an electric company that is going to kick them hard, right in that spot where we carry our wallet, unless we protect them from the negative consequences of a deregulated electric market that this legislature created.
There is no place, other than this Capitol, for the consumer to go. There is no meaningful competition. There is no choice. There is no practical way for them to stop using electricity. They just have to pay that monthly bill, no matter what it is. So they must turn to us.
Twelve years ago, after this Legislature approved electric deregulation, I led the fight to make sure that some of the some of those utility company windfalls were passed on to consumers. Thatís how we ended up with rate caps that have been in saving people money for a decade.
I will not be here when those caps expire, but most of you will be. So let me warn you. Consumers might not be paying attention yet, but when their electric bill nearly doubles and they find out that utility companies are still swimming in money under a deregulation plan that you approved, your phone will start ringing. Right now you are only hearing from utility company lobbyists, but unless you do something soon to mitigate rate increases, you will be hearing from your constituents when the caps come off.
It is time for us -- as a government acting in the public interest -- to stand up to the lobbyists, and stand up to the special interests, and help the people who canít help themselves. It is time for us to act on behalf of the actual people who elected us to represent them, not on behalf of the lobbyists hired to represent the big electric companies, who still hold a functional monopoly over their customers.
If we do nothing, the windfall profits for electric companies in the first year alone after caps are taken off will be $9 billion dollars -- free money, out of the customersí pocket and into the pocket of the electric companies that are already doing quite well financially, even under rate caps.
And let me be clear. No one is suggesting that utility companies donít have the right to earn a profit, or to provide a healthy return to their investors, or to make enough money to pay their workers a fair wage. We want our electric companies to be strong and profitable. The rate caps they have lived with for the past decade have not brought them to ruin. In fact, if you look at their stock prices, even after the steep declines of the past few days, you find that most of them have more than doubled since caps went on. We want, and must pass, legislation that allows the electric company to make money, but more importantly it must be fair to the customer from whose paycheck that money comes.
If ever there was a time for courage and for the mandate that we do the right thing to protect those we are sworn to serve, this is it. Senators Boscola, Ferlo and myself and others are introducing legislation that will change the way we do business on this issue, and protect all tax payers from the gouging that is certain to occur.
And Mister President, on another, more somber topic, I would like to ask the members of this chamber to take a moment to honor our U.S. servicemen and women who continue to fight in Iraq. So far, we have lost 4,106 dead. Another 30,182 have been wounded.
The dead include these two Pennsylvanians:
Private Wesley J. Williams, 23, of Philadelphia, died March 2, 2007, in Baghdad. Private Williams was assigned to the 163d Military Intelligence Battalion, 504th Military Intelligence Brigade.
Sergeant Ashly Moyer, 21, of Emmaus died March 3, 2007 in Baghdad from the explosion of an improvised explosive device detonated. Sergeant Moyer was assigned to the 630th Military Police Company, headquartered in Bamberg, Germany.
Thank you Mister President.
Copyright 2000 Sen. Vincent J. Fumo