Ruth: Utilities win again in Tallahassee

Published March 18 2015

At the moment, former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is serving a 14-year prison term following his public corruption conviction on charges of wire fraud, attempted extortion and conspiracy to seek bribes. For the same behavior here in the Slimeshine State, Blago probably would be awarded a powerful committee chairmanship in the Florida Legislature.

The Grand Duchy of Freedonia, otherwise known as Tallahassee In Full Extended Palm of Itself, was in fine form the other day when the House Energy and Utilities Committee rejected an effort by Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, to commit the Capitol's most unpardonable of sins by calling for commonsense fairness.

It has become a tilting at checkbooks crusade for Dudley to repeal the onerous advanced nuclear recovery fee, which has permitted Duke Energy to continue to grift $3.2 billion from its customers to never build a nuclear power plant in Levy County or repair a broken one in Citrus County.

By any standard, charging customers perverse amounts of money for nuclear plants Duke has no plans no fix or build would seem to be immoral, unscrupulous and just plain venal. Perhaps that's why the Republican-controlled Legislature and the state's utility companies get along so well. Call it a Kismet of Cash.

Back here on Planet Earth, if a real estate developer wanted you to pay him for a house that would never be built, how many people would accept such an incredibly stupid deal? But this is Tallahassee, a land where brain synapses go to die.

Why would members of the Legislature stiff their constituents by permitting Duke to continue to dragoon their customers to the tune of $3.2 billion? Barely legal bribes, that's why.

During the last election cycle, Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy and Gulf Power forked over $3.5 million in campaign contributions to the Republican Party of Florida and Gov. Rick Scott's re-election effort. Big corporations don't pony up huge checks to politicians because they want to create the Federalist Papers Institute of Good Government.

You can call it a campaign contribution, if you want. You can call the $3.5 million an expression of free speech. You can call it merely a democratic exercise in the great American tradition of participating in the political process. But it is still a bribe all gussied up to be perfectly legal.

Little wonder Dudley's doomed proposal to repeal the advanced nuclear recovery fee scam was laughed away. Duke drops some cash on Tallahassee's mooching class, thus bringing a whole new dimension to the term "chump change," and the company gets to keep $3.2 billion? That's a pretty good return on investing in a bumper crop of shills.

Since Dudley was already on a roll to ruin, he decided to make the best of a parallel universe situation by proposing an amendment calling for Public Service Commission members (really, that's what they are called) to be elected to two-year terms, instead of the current process whereby the governor, who has already accepted his generous legalized baksheesh from the utility companies, appoints the industry's flunkies. The committee, with a straight face, rejected the proposal as an attempt by Dudley to politicize the PSC, whose members too often leave and later go to work for the utility companies. No politics there!

Next Dudley offered up the insane idea of requiring the PSC to hold meetings where controversial rate increases will be discussed in the actual service area where customers will be most impacted. That proposal, too, was defeated as unnecessary. That makes sense. After all, does Tallahassee really want to create a situation where irate but powerless customers might show up to vent their spleens over being treated like hapless vassals by the utility companies and their PSC enablers? No good would come from this.

What a state of puerile we live in.

If you are a teacher in Florida you will be hounded to the edge of perdition with a maze of demands for accountability, endless standards of performance measurement and grading rubrics to make you earn every single penny of your average $46,582-a-year salary.

If you find yourself unemployed, the state of Florida will make you jump through more hoops than a German shepherd in police dog training to ensure you don't improperly collect so much as a farthing more than the $275 a week for 14 weeks you are barely entitled to.

But if you are Duke Energy, the state is your no-questions-asked $3.2 billion oyster — just because. And in Tallahassee, the land of the knave, the home of the fleece, that is reason enough.

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