The below article appeared in the Sunday May 3rd edition of the Wisconsin State Journal, and argues that the Joint Finance Committee should restore funding for CUB and other advocates to ensure ordinary ratepayers have a voice on their side.

When you spread the cost of the Citizens’ Utility Board across all of the ratepayers in Wisconsin, it’s no more than a penny a month on your utility bill.

“I actually think it’s less than that because it gets spread across electric bills and gas bills and water,” CUB executive director Kira Loehr said Thursday.

That penny provides a lot of pop for the public.

CUB has successfully argued before the state Public Service Commission against rate hikes sought by utilities. Those efforts have saved ordinary ratepayers — homeowners, renters and small business people — real money.

In the last year alone, CUB has helped convince the PSC to reduce proposed rate hikes saving customers more than $160 million. The PSC might have scaled back some of those utility requests on its own. But the professional analysis and testimony of CUB played an important role.

In fact, the PSC is not required to grant CUB the $300,000 it receives from ratepayers each year. The PSC approves the expense because it values CUB’s input and knowledge. The PSC late last year called CUB “active,” “professional,” “forthcoming, prudent and worthy of this nominal award.”

Unfortunately, CUB is now at risk. The Legislature’s budget committee just nixed the $300,000 payment and made it harder for CUB to hire outside experts to testify at hearings on behalf of consumers.

Republicans who control the Joint Finance Committee claim the change will save ratepayers money. Sure, a few pennies a year.

But that savings will be imperceptible and will certainly lead to costly hikes in utility rates over time. That’s because CUB’s four-member staff won’t be carefully following and sticking up for ratepayers in dozens of cases before the PSC.

The PSC lets utilities hire expensive lawyers and consultants to plead their cases for higher rates, with the cost of that advocacy passed on to ratepayers. So it’s only fair for ordinary ratepayers to have a voice, too.

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce is spearheading the effort to scrub CUB, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The MMAC has disagreed with CUB in cases affecting how much Milwaukee businesses, versus general customers, will pay for power.

You can’t fault MMAC for trying to control its costs. But you should fault the Joint Finance Committee for trying to eliminate a strong advocate for ordinary ratepayers.

Even utilities are defending CUB’s important role.

“We felt the CUB funding worked fine,” Gary Wolter, CEO of Madison Gas and Electric, told the State Journal editorial board Wednesday.

If the Joint Finance Committee doesn’t restore CUB funding, the full Legislature should. Ratepayers need this cost-effective advocate on their side.

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