Beware, Missouri: When Ethics Go Down, Utility Rates Go Up

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PHOTO COURTESY OF FLICKR/ROBERT STINNETT
The Missouri state legislature had quite the year. St. Louis city’s minimum wage ordinance was nullified. The state’s Human Rights Statute was gutted. And to no surprise, our leaders failed to expand Medicaid. Though it seems as if Missourians had more than their fair share of detrimental policy, Governor Greitens has now called a special session to bid for utility monopolies at the expense of consumers.

This reason for this unexpected special session — which is costing taxpayers approximately $50,000 a day — is simple. Ameren and other utility monopolies want to pass legislation to pad their own pockets, while increasing utility rates for Missouri families.

One of the hottest bills this last legislative session was SB 190, an omnibus electric rate bill that will shift the financial burden to sustain utilities from large consumers onto everyday Missourians, while also skirting the Public Service Commission. Yes, that's the very authority that is supposed to protect consumers from outrageous utility hikes. We have a Public Service Commission for a reason – to review utility rate increases in an effort to protect the general public.

This most recent special session stunt will also benefit utilities, not consumers. While the legislation on the table is ostensibly designed to create jobs in the Bootheel, it could increase rates by at least ten percent, according to the St. Louis American. While this may not seem like a significant spike, it still adds further strain to many households already living paycheck to paycheck.

The House members who voted to approve the legislation Wednesday have touted it as a potential job creator, but that outcome is far from the truth. If you really want to know why leaders in Jefferson City support this, just follow the money. More than 100 lobbyists in our state capital are registered with the Missouri Ethics Commission to lobby for the utility industry. That’s almost three lobbyists per Senator. The Missouri Consumer Council is the only organization lobbying for consumers against all of these powerful interests. Even Sen. Rob Schaaf (R-St. Joseph) called out the million dollars in campaign contributions that came to our legislature this year from the coffers of utility companies.

It is unacceptable for utility companies to make political contributions while circumventing the very watchdog commission tasked with regulating their actions. This only further muddies the waters and hinders the ability of elected official to objectively do their jobs.

But the shenanigans around raising utility rates has not stopped at the General Assembly.

At the Board of Aldermen, a bill was filed stating that the Board of Aldermen support these rate hikes. This bill, which was later withdrawn after concerns from Aldermen, was drafted and submitted by lobbyists for Ameren.

It was bad enough that lobbyists can sit on the floor of the Board of Aldermen to influence debate. But now we have lobbyists writing and submitting legislation at the Board to influence state policy. These practices must stop.

Ethics reform is championed as a top priority from the federal and local levels. And I applauded Greitens when he made ethics reform a top priority. But we must be honest with ourselves. The purpose of this special session ignores ethics – it benefits utility companies at the detriment of hardworking consumers.

Now is the time to put this special session to bed. And for the sake of good governance, we must put more distance between aldermen and lobbyists.

Megan Ellyia Green is a St. Louis alderwoman representing the 15th ward. The Riverfront Times welcomes concise essays on topics of local interest. Contact sarah.fenske@riverfronttimes.com if you've got something to say.


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