The Public Service Commission, being composed of all Republicans, is unfortunately proving itself to be a useful snapshot of the Montana GOP. Perhaps 20% of the party, in this case represented by Travis Kavulla (who I also respect for occasionally commenting on this blog despite our ideological differences), really stands up for conservative Montana values. The rest use ‘conservatism’ as an excuse to put Montanans second, third, or fourth on their list of priorities. The latest exhibition? The PSC has agreed, with only Kavulla dissenting, that they will attempt to remove a rule that requires state-regulated utilities to disclose the salaries of their executives on the grounds of privacy. This begs the question – who really is being protected by this rule change?
It’s hard to say it really protects the companies in question, or their executives. Sure, it’d be great (or maybe incredibly disheartening) to know how much of your utility bill was going to pay a chief executive, but it’s not like you can assess your options, analyze the overhead of various utilities and make an informed decision about which one to get your water/power from (though you might have imagined such a world if you took seriously the words of deregulation proponents in years gone by). And I’m unconvinced that it really hurts the executives themselves – if it did, we would stop publishing the salaries of State workers as well, because in both cases the concerned public has no choice but to pay. I’m not ashamed of my wages, and I appreciate the people of Montana for paying them.
No, I’m pretty sure the people it protects are the PSC members themselves. Because although we as utility-consuming public can’t effectively use the free market to impact utility company practices, we can elect PSC members to help us keep them under control. However, we as a voting public cannot effectively monitor and assess our PSC if we don’t know what information they are using to make their decisions. Thumbs up to Travis Kavulla for realizing this – hopefully Montanans will make clear that these rule changes are not what we want, and if ignored, elect a panel of PSC members who are actually dedicated to transparency and achieving the best outcomes for Montanans.