Monday, July 22, 2013

Jane’s Ire

Some readers of the email I published on Friday from Jane Cunningham to the St. Louis County Republican Central Committee took issue with the claims Cunningham made.  In particular her finding the devil in these relatively non-controversial bills, and her singling out of Sen. Eric Schmitt as the cause behind the legislation’s passage.

While they were “local government” bills, so they did move through Schmitt’s committee, a look at the record shows Schmitt was hardly the prime mover.

SB 216 was sponsored by Sen. Ryan Silvey.  And passed the Senate unanimously.  In the House, only one state representative, Rep. Gina Mitten, a Democrat, voted against it.  And the reason for the very nearly unanimous approval from the General Assembly isn’t hard to see.  The very short bill – see it here – gives first responders the right that every other citizen has: to engage in the political process and run for office, albeit the bill restricts these activities to their off-duty, out-of-uniform hours.

HB 307 was sponsored by Rep. Jeanie Riddle.  It passed the House overwhelming.  147 Aye to 8 No.  7 of the 8 No votes were from Democrats, with Rep. Mike Leara the sole Republican voting against it.  In the Senate, Schmitt was the handler.  And there were amendments, but again they were hardly objectionable to “conservatives” in either chamber.  The House passed the conference report 120-26, again with the vast majority of the Nos being Democrats.  And the Senate passed it without a single vote of dissent.

HB 336 followed a similar path.  It was sponsored by Rep. Dave Hinson, and the Senate handler was Silvey.  Again, the final conference committee report was approved in the House overwhelming: 150-3, and without dissent in the Senate.

Pleus on SB 240 Veto

Larry Pleus, Laclede Gas’ director of government relations, expressed disappointment at the governor’s veto of the “gas ISRS bill,” SB 240:

First, let me express our appreciation to our supporters and opponents alike who were willing to engage and work to understand the merits of SB 240 Gas ISRS/Bad Debt – a piece of legislation that would have promoted public safety, created jobs and had a minimal if not positive impact on customer rates.   It has become all too common for any legislation that modifies the way utilities are regulated in Missouri to automatically attract opposition from the ever-burgeoning cottage industry of opposing lobbyists.  In fact, that opposition occurs regardless of whether the legislation has any meaningful impact, let alone an adverse impact, on consumers.  That statement is not a presumption, it’s a fact.

Second, while the Governor’s veto of SB 240 was disappointing, the veto message and press release that accompanied it was even more disturbing given its inaccurate and exaggerated characterization of what the legislation would do.  Among other things, the veto message inaccurately stated that the gas ISRS legislation was passed 10 years ago because Laclede and MGE were “behind” on their safety upgrades.   That is completely false.  

The veto message also said that the gas ISRS only applies to Laclede and MGE.  Again, this is completely inaccurate as there are three other gas utilities that have or could use the ISRS mechanism.

His response also implied that SB 240 would increase gas rates by 30% based on raising the cap from 10% to 13%, completely ignoring that coupling the cap extension with extending the rate case requirement from 3 to 5 years actually lowers the annual cap...Simple math.

Moreover because the 13% cap relates to only one part of the utility’s cost structure, it is actually a much lower cap as a percentage of the customer’s entire bill.  In fact, ISRS charges as a percentage of the customers overall bill have averaged around 1% per year, and nothing in SB 240 would have changed this.

Finally, while the uncollectible provision would have applied to both decreases and increases in this cost of business and would have ensured that customers were not overcharged for this expense, we agreed to forego the provision if desired by the Governor in our acquisition agreement with MGE   That would have required NO future legislative action.

Again, the veto message made no mention of these facts.  For whatever reason instead of engaging on discussion on whether to include or exclude this provision, the Governor chose to make it an issue in his veto message.

In short, the SB 240 was a sensible, moderate and fair mechanism for reducing the frequency of expensive rate cases, while allowing utilities to continue to upgrade their systems while enhancing safety and creating jobs.   Large bi-partisan majorities of the Senate and House understood that and the Governor’s inaccurate veto message did a disservice to them as well as to local utilities who have been investing in this state and providing safe and reliable service to their customers for more than a century and a half.

Not Uncommon Response

Laclede Gas’ “disappointment” with the governor’s veto is not an uncommon reaction among politicos in the Capitol. 

This governor has made legislative disengagement a cornerstone to the operations of his office.  Lobbyists of various issues and industries complain of being unable to get Nixon or his team to commit to any piece of any legislation.  Meetings may be taken but they usually result in complete non-committal. 

The lack of engagement chafes some involved with the legislative process as a “complete imbalance of power like we are peasants asking for a seat at the king’s table.”

One lobbyist – recalling his encounter with Nixon’s style of avoidance – says that the only prelude to a gubernatorial veto is “not getting your calls returned.”  

This disengagement then manifests itself in veto letters that stun supporters of legislation.  Issues which were never raised during the legislative process suddenly become the reason for the veto.

Override on SB 240?

Is an override on gas ISRS possible?  Anything can happen, but it seems like a long-shot.

 

The Senate might not look like a problem on first glance since it passed there 26-6.  But there are some in the Aye column (like Sens. Rob Schaaf and Doug Libla) who have been vigilant against electric ISRS and might change their votes to No in a veto session.  Thus an override in the Senate may be difficult.

And then there’s the House.  It has two problems.  First the governor’s veto will likely result in Democrats moving from an Aye vote to a No vote.  And second, those who voted for the bill premised on the Bad Debt provision being later removed now have a very understandable reason to depart from their previous vote.  It only passed the House with 110 votes, so there’s just no margin for defections.

Hill For Hire

From Matt Hill’s LinkedIn profile:

I am pursuing a job with a lobbying firm in Jefferson City. If I don't get any takers there, then I want to work for an association and visit the Capitol when my issues are up for debate. I know it's summer, but I can play golf and I would be happy working on association issues. Then, when it's time to lobby, you get the best I got. I hope all who read this understand my passion for this business. John Britton trained me to be the toughest, most disciplined and hard working individual in politics. He gave me confident I didn't know I had. Because of the ten years by his side, I now am ready to use my talents and skills to make a difference in The Missouri General Assembly. I'm ready and I feel I will help clients whether it's a lobbying firm or a statewide association.

Bits

Firefighters’ lobbyist, Mark Habbas hangs out a shingle.  Missouri Times has the story; see it here.

Joyce Aboussie & Associates is leaving their long-time South St. Louis City digs and heading to Clayton… 7700 Forsyth, which Clayonites will remember was once the site of the gorgeous Library Limited, in those days before the internet, Amazon and e-books….

Doug and Cheri Galaske were awarded the Marshall License Office Moberly. They also run the Keytesville and the Moberly license offices.  Doug Galaske, a Democrat, lost a state rep bid in 2010 to Randy Asbury (70-30).

And

The great Tom Krewson, government relations for Comcast, has left the Blackberry tribe, “upgrading?” to an iPhone…

$5K+Contributions

Continue to Care Committee – $5,748 from SEIU Healthcare.

Continue to Care Committee - $10,000 from University Physicians Association.

Continue to Care Committee - $10,000 from DST.

Lobbyist Registrations

From the Pelopidas website:

Jack Cardetti added Jumble Interactive LTD, and deleted Hawkeye Land Company.

Trent Watson deleted Major Brands Premium Beverage Distributors, and Collaborative for a Low Cost Digital Future.

Birthdays

Happy birthdays to Rep. Rick Brattin (33) and former Reps. Eileen McGeoghegan and Jason Brown (43).