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Who's left to protect consumers? Only Jeb

It wasn't even close.

Your state Legislature is so deep in the bag for the telephone industry that it would rather risk angering millions of voters, by jacking up their local telephone rates, than disobey the telephone companies.

So by a vote of 26-9 on Friday morning, the Florida Senate passed the bill to raise local telephone rates in this state. The House passed it 103-12 last week.

You got the shaft.

But cheer up. There's a bright side. Because you will be paying more, the long-distance guys like AT&T and MCI will be able to pay less. So, you are doing them a favor. You should feel warm about that.

Twenty-six to 9.

It ought to be noted that most of the senators from our part of the state voted against the bill, except for the ever-interesting Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, who is retiring this year because of term limits. (List, 12A)But the majority of the Senate relied on a little technicality to make themselves feel better _ and so they could lie to you better.

They said that the rate increases still have to be approved by the state Public Service Commission. The senators will claim, therefore, that they didn't really raise your rates.

But make no mistake.

Remember that the Public Service Commission is an agency of the Legislature.

And who approves the members of the Public Service Commission? Who decides that they get to hold their jobs?

Why, the Florida Senate, that's who.

That is why on Wednesday, right on cue, the day that the bill appeared on the Senate calendar, the chairman of that same Public Service Commission wrote a boot-licking letter to the Senate in praise of the bill.

Lila A. Jaber, the PSC chairman, made it a point in her letter (which I am sure she wrote at no one's "suggestion") to deny that this bill requires an automatic rate increase. Her letter gave the Senate all the cover it needed.

"Should the (local) companies not provide sufficient evidence to allow the commission to make such findings," Jaber wrote, "the request would be denied."

What she did NOT say is that under the bill, "sufficient evidence" is not too much more than saying, "Howdy, this is Verizon, give us our dough now."

And if the PSC ever did deny a rate increase, for some perverse reason: I still say that the wording of the bill almost guarantees the denial would be reversed by the courts.

If a rate increase is ever, EVER denied under this bill, and it sticks, then I promise to wear a tuxedo and tap-dance down the aisle and shine the shoes of the Senate president.

There is one last hope for consumers.

Gov. Jeb Bush still could veto the bill.

There are plenty of good, public policy reasons for him to do it.

There are good political reasons for him to do it, too, although I know that mere, grubby politics would never enter the governor's mind, even in his re-election year.

The governor was one of those who wanted to add the technicality that kicked the official decision over to the PSC.

That way, when the governor signed the bill, he wouldn't be raising rates, either.

But he will be.

So it might still be a good idea, now, for the taxpayers, the voters, the citizens, to ask their governor to veto this bill.

You can e-mail him, if you'd like. Here is his e-mail address: jebmyflorida.com.

You can telephone him, if you'd like. Here is his telephone number: (850) 488-4441.

You can write him, too, at this address: Gov. Jeb Bush, The Capitol, Tallahassee FL 32399-0001.

As always, if you will tolerate an extra word of advice, it is more effective to be polite and firm, not rude and threatening. You know the old saying: You catch more governors with honey than with vinegar.

As for those in the House and Senate who deliberately voted to hurt their own constituents: The voters will be delighted to see you in November or (hey, did you guys think of THIS?) even in your party primary in September. Your party leaders might have promised you that your vote can't hurt you this fall. Here is news: They were wrong.

_ You can reach Howard Troxler at (727) 893-8505 or at troxlersptimes.com.

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