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The PRC should remain elected

This November, we will vote on whether to transform the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission (PRC) into an appendage of the Governor’s Office, or to keep it an elected body accountable to the people.

Giving the governor power to appoint PRC commissioners is listed on the ballot as Constitutional Amendment No. 1, and it’s a terrible idea.

Our democracy is already too concentrated in the hands of a handful of elected officials. Allowing the governor to select those charged with regulating our monopoly utilities would further narrow our already fragile democratic system, removing an important check on power that should rest with the voting public.

In short, this amendment would give PNM a clear path toward choosing its own regulators. The reason CA 1 is even on the ballot is because PNM hasn’t been able to control the current PRC.

During the past PRC election, PNM spent a staggering $440,000 trying to elect two commissioner candidates they thought would be friendly to their interests. Direct contributions to PRC candidates are prohibited by law, so the money was filtered through a political action committee, “New Mexicans for Progress.” In both of those elections, we the people rejected PNM’s chosen candidates.

Having failed to buy the commissioners they wanted, PNM began meeting secretly with legislators and lobbyists who represent the companies that the PRC regulates. Together, they cooked up CA 1.

How does CA 1 increase PNM’s influence over the process of selecting commissioners?

First, it takes away the voting public’s ability to directly unseat a PRC commissioner who acts against the public interest. Instead, the public would have to weigh the actions of the PRC alongside the many other activities of the state when voting for the governor, who would appoint the PRC, and legislators, with PRC appointees requiring consent of the state Senate.

Since this issue is obviously a bit wonky, the decisions of the PRC would inevitably get lost in the shuffle. How convenient for PNM.

Second, the amendment, if passed, would make it easier for PNM to directly assert its influence on the PRC. As of now, PNM is prohibited from donating directly to candidates for the PRC, but there is no such prohibition on donations to the governor or state legislators. PNM has long shown its willingness to influence our political process with money, having spent over $556,000 on state and federal political campaigns in New Mexico over the past three years.

Before the PRC was created, New Mexico had an appointed Public Utility Commission. In a January 6, 1994, Santa Fe New Mexican editorial, this body was called “a lapdog of our state’s power companies.” On January 30, 1995, another editorial in the same paper explained that, “Because that commission is governor-appointed rather than elected, as in other states, its membership is subject to the political spoils system rather than merits as judged by voters.”

It’s just common sense that elected commissioners would be more pro-consumer than appointed commissions, since elected commissioners have to regularly answer to voters. But if you want proof, a 2003 study examined four decades worth of residential electricity prices across the country and concluded that “prices were significantly lower in states that elect their regulators.”

CA 1 is PNM’s latest attempt to influence the selection of commissioners so that it can control the PRC, raise rates on New Mexico families and continue to delay the conversion to renewables.

Let’s keep our democracy direct and keep PNM in check. In this upcoming election, vote NO on Constitutional Amendment No. 1.

Matthew Palevsky of Santa Fe is board chairman of New Energy Economy.

 

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