Sunday, June 24, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Florida Supreme Court should not silence voice of utility ratepayers

The likelihood of Florida electric customers getting a fair shake when utility companies seek a rate increase is about as low as seeing a Florida panther, and the odds may soon get worse. The Public Service Commission is packed with industry-friendly commissioners, and Gov. Rick Scott has recently reappointed three of the incumbents. That leaves the public counsel, who represents ratepayers before the PSC, as the lonely voice battling Goliaths such as Duke Energy and Florida Power & Light when they want more from consumers' pockets. Now a case before the Florida Supreme Court could weaken the public counsel's hand when rate increases are negotiated in back-room deals and rubber-stamped by the PSC. The court should affirm the public counsel's ability to protect the public by requiring his approval on rate case settlements.

The deck is badly stacked against average utility customers. The Legislature and the PSC routinely acquiesce to the state's major utilities even when they seek to pass on the costs of their own mismanagement. Prime examples are Duke Energy's (formerly Progress Energy) botched repairs on the closed Crystal River nuclear power plant, and its abandoned plan to build a nuclear power plant in Levy County. The company's customers will be soaked for billions of dollars for these avoidable mistakes, and the PSC's claim that its hands are tied by state law is a convenient excuse to look the other way.

The dispute heard this month by the Florida Supreme Court involves the $350 million rate increase for FP&L approved by the PSC in 2012. The approval is being challenged by public counsel J.R. Kelly, the attorney who represents ratepayers as a consumer watchdog before the PSC.

Kelly has valid reasons to question the settlement. The process was flawed. Rather than provide a full rate hearing, the PSC approved a settlement that had been negotiated by FP&L and the utility's major industrial users. Meanwhile, 99 percent of FP&L's 4.6 million customers were not a party to the agreement but would get socked with higher electric bills.

Rates would go up in 2013 and then automatically in 2014 and 2016 as new power plants become operational. The public counsel objected, but for the first time the PSC approved the settlement over those objections. The danger is that the PSC will be allowed to rubber-stamp deals that benefit powerful interests and are opposed by the public counsel without the transparency or accountability of a full rate hearing. In this case, the public counsel analyzed FPL's financial projections and found that rates should be reduced, not increased. But that didn't sway the regulators.

Arguably, there is enough wiggle room in the public counsel's legal authority to ensure that he signs off on agreements that short-circuit the normal process for approving rate increases. The court should read this authority in the broadest possible light. The people's voice at the PSC should not be silenced. It should be amplified.

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Editorial: Handing out gift cards like candy at CareerSource

Editorial: Handing out gift cards like candy at CareerSource

Itís hard to pick the biggest outrage in the financial and ethical swamp that has swallowed Tampa Bayís two primary job placement agencies, CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay. Is it the boiler room atmosphere where CareerSource recruite...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18

Family separation crisis is not over

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Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Editorial: State help needed to staff hotlines with veterans helping veterans

Editorial: State help needed to staff hotlines with veterans helping veterans

Veterans can help veterans deal with trauma resulting from military service in a way no one else can. Thatís the theory behind a special hotline set up in the Tampa Bay area that proponents are hoping to take statewide.The expansion would cost some $...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Editorial: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

Editorial: With Supreme Court ruling, Florida should collect sales tax from online retailers

It turns out the U.S. Supreme Court has a better grasp of the economic realities of the 21st century than Congress or the Florida Legislature. The court ruled Thursday that states can require online retailers to collect sales taxes even if the retail...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

Editorial: Congress should ban splitting kids, parents

The shocking scenes of immigrant children crying after being taken from their parents at the border exposed a new level of cruelty by the Trump administration, and though the president reversed course Wednesday, Congress needs to end the shameful pra...
Published: 06/21/18
Sessions kickstarts action on marijuana

Sessions kickstarts action on marijuana

Good job, Jeff Sessions! It seems the attorney generalís misguided attempts to revive the unpopular and unjust federal war on marijuana may be having the exact opposite effect ó prompting a new bipartisan effort in Congress to allow states to legaliz...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/21/18
Editorial: A court victory for protecting Floridaís environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Floridaís environment

A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18