Nine-member PSC proposed in Annapolis 2 former regulators call enlarged panel unwieldy, political

Hearing on bill today

Better geographic representation argued by McHale

Utilities

March 11, 1996|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

At a time when most of state government is slimming down, a Baltimore delegate has proposed legislation that would beef up the Public Service Commission.

Del. Brian K. McHale, a Democrat, recently introduced a little-noticed bill that would expand the membership of the PSC from five commissioners to nine.

Commissioners earn $79,800 to $87,200 depending on length of service, and each has an administrative aide who is paid a salary of $26,631, said Chris Wilson, the PSC's manager of external affairs.

That means the salary tab for adding four new commissioners would come to at least $425,724. The costs of benefits and additional office space would likely drive the final cost well above $500,000.

The bill would require that the governor appoint one member from each of Maryland's eight congressional districts, as well as one at-large member. Delegate McHale said he wanted to ensure sufficient geographic representation on the commission, a powerful independent agency that regulates utilities in Maryland.

Ms. Wilson said the commission had not taken a position on the bill, but former members of the PSC opposed the notion.

"I don't think there's a state in the nation that has a commission that large," said William Badger, who served on the commission for 15 years during the 1970s and 1980s. "It would be hard to rationalize a need for that in today's environment."

Mr. Badger, who now heads the Pennsylvania Electric Association, expressed a concern that designating commissioners to formally represent regions of the state would tend to make decision-making more political.

"A commissioner is supposed to balance the interests of the consumers and the utilities they regulate," he said.

Frank O. Heintz, who left the commission last year after 13 years as chairman, said five is the right number to assure a diversity of views on the commission.

"Commissions that have gotten to be seven or nine in members tend to be larger than necessary for making the decisions," Mr. Heintz said.

According to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, there are only three states whose utility commissions have as many as seven members.

Currently, there are no residency requirements in the PSC statute, but in the past administrations have tried to assure that all parts of the state are represented, Mr. Badger said.

More recently, governors departed from that tradition.

Two of former Gov. William Donald Schaefer's appointees, Ger- ald Thorpe and Susanne Brogan, live in Anne Arundel County. Gov. Parris N. Glendening's only appointee, Chairman H. Russell Frisby Jr., lives in Howard County, which is also home to Commissioner M. Claude Ligon.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a Democrat from Allegany County, in the past has expressed concern about insufficient geographic representation on the commission. Last year, he said, he went to the mat with the governor to protect the lone commissioner from Western Maryland, E. Mason Hendrickson.

Mr. Glendening did not reappoint Mr. Hendrickson, but neither did he replace him, so the commissioner remains on the job.

Mr. McHale said the bill was entirely his own and the speaker has never spoken to him about the issue. He said he had no complaints about the performance of the commission.

The House Environmental Matters Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on House Bill 148 today.

Pub Date: 3/11/96

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