Opinion wanted


Much hubbub has been made recently in the press about the Public Service Commission’s decision to consider repealing what has come to be called the “PSC Executive Pay Rule” (see “Salary secrets,” April 11). Much of the commentary has been misleading, even downright inaccurate.

The commissioners need and want your input and feedback on the matter. I’ve outlined a number of issues for your consideration and hope you’ll take the time to call us or send your commissioner feedback.

One argument for repeal is that the Executive Pay Rule is duplicative, and simply repeats what is already in the state law (MCA 2-6-102) as well as the PSC’s rule (ARM 38.2.303). All utility information, including executive compensation is, even without the executive Pay Rule, public information and available to the public at the PSC unless a request for protection is requested and granted before we get it. We get relatively few of these requests. The Executive Pay Rule states that if the PSC has it, the compensation of the top three utility executives is public information unless a request for protection is requested and granted. But, that’s already the rule and law!

Are you in favor of having more rules even if they duplicate or restate other existing rules and laws, or should duplicative directives, such as the Executive Pay Rule, be repealed? Some claim that the Executive Pay Rule is not just a restatement of other existing law, that it does, in fact, change the law.

Some argue that the PSC does not, and should not, have the authority to make a new law, especially law or rules affecting constitutional rights. They argue that new law should only be made by the people or the legislature and not executive agencies. (Although some judges may argue they too have the power to make new law.) Should executive agencies have the authority to make new law, even if it affects your constitutional rights?

The PSC was immediately sued over the Executive Pay Rule. The pending lawsuit challenges the PSC’s authority to make such a one-size-fits-all rule that changes the balance between two competing constitutional mandates, in this instance the public right to know versus the individual right of privacy. Attorneys for the PSC say that based on existing Montana case law the Executive Pay Rule will probably not pass muster. Continued defense of this rule in the lawsuit, and the subsequent appeals, will cost tax and ratepayers a lot of money. Should the PSC continue to spend your money defending the Executive Pay Rule in court?

Regrettably, some people are always in re-election campaign mode. My predecessor, Ken Toole, who conceived and championed this toothless tiger rule for his 2010 PSC re-election campaign, has a reputation for costing tax payers big money in court defending poor choices. As he does all too often, one of my colleagues on the commission adopts Toole’s position and argues fervently in favor of the rule and for fighting for it in the courts. I said it in 2010: This issue is classic political ruse. Gin up a do-nothing but emotional issue or rule aimed at a group we all dislike. It makes for good headlines, generates lots of fighting, but really does absolutely nothing to make your government better. It works especially well when a politician needs to distract you from their actual work or voting record.

Public comment on this issue will be accepted through April 26. Tell us what you think. Contact your PSC Commissioner at (406) 444-6199 or at psc.mt.gov/.

Bill Gallagher


Public Service Commission


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