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The P

I am crying.

Huge, wracking sobs of guilt overcome me.

Pity and sympathy swell in my bosom.

I am reading in the newspaper about the five state pooh-bahs who set your electric and telephone and gas rates.

They complain they are misunderstood. They want a better image.

How terrible! How sad! What a cruel fate, to be paid $90,000 a year to rob people, and to be misunderstood!

The five members of the Public Service Commission gnash their teeth.

"People don't understand our role," Betty Easley says.

"I'm amazed at how little people know about what we do and how wrong they are," Luis Lauredo says.

Their poor image, Tom Beard says, comes from "reporters who have unfairly labeled us."

You can decide for yourself what is "unfair." But I announce to the world that I cheerfully label the Public Service Commission.

Here is my label:

It is a lickspittle, smug, amoral, self-centered, short-sighted, biased, hidebound, slavish lapdog for utilities.

Is this clear?

Do you prefer more labels?

The PSC is the bastard child of a marriage between the utility industry and a round-heeled Legislature, a Legislature for hire, a Legislature seduced by campaign money _ some of it illegal _ and junkets and freebies that, if anyone other than the Legislature defined "bribery," would fit that label, too.

The PSC is an accessory before and after the fact to the systematic robbery of 13-million Floridians to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars of unjustified profits over the last decade.

Phony taxes. Incorrect billings. The "accidental" destruction of company records. The shifting of customer-bought assets to "sister" companies outside the reach of regulators. Locked doors and secret meetings. Junkets. Socializing with utility executives. Lobbying the Legislature against tougher utility laws.

These are the PSC's gifts to the people of Florida.

And through it all, through the entire nightmare that was the 1980s, the PSC preserved profit rates that were incredibly, dizzyingly high, set at the tail end of the Jimmy Carter years of high inflation and interest rates, rates that should have been slashed in the 1980s.

The public's lawyer begged _ begged _ dozens if not hundreds of times over the last decade for full-scale rate cases to cut profits. The commission refused, time and again. And the companies with a straight face brag that they have not had to raise rates in years. No wonder.

And now, today, the big utilities wail!

They wander in the streets, and tear their garments!

They rub ashes on their faces and cry out: Woe, woe is us!

And they come, with hands outstretched for more of your money:

Tampa Electric Co., asking for $98-million a year.

GTE Florida, asking for $66-million.

Florida Power Corp., which has just won $86-million _ far above the recommendation even of the PSC's own staff.

Do you think it is coincidence that the utility giants are all coming in for more money today, having digested their gluttonous meal of the 1980s?

No. They are paving the way for the 1990s, and the recovery to come. Every dollar they wring out of the state today _ not that they are having much trouble "wringing" _ will mean windfalls later.

If my friends on the Public Service Commission want to improve their image, I have suggestions:

First, stop taking so much of our money. Your work is guesswork anyway. You make it up. So guess toward the people now and then.

Let the utilities sue you. Make them mad as hell. The people would be better served if the utilities thought you were idiots. Instead, they praise your wisdom, and call you friends.

Second, transfer your staff to the overworked Public Counsel, where it might do some good. You ignore that staff anyway, so why not?

Third, work for changes in the utility laws. A "trigger" to force rate reductions. A law to forbid you guys from taking fat utility jobs when you quit.

Misunderstood?

Maybe your problem, commissioners, is that you are understood too well. Better, maybe, than you understand yourselves.

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