June 13, 2002 Alaska Newspapers Inc. urges reauthorization of the RCA

Posted: Monday, June 17, 2002

The Legislature should waste little time reauthorizing the Regulatory Commission of Alaska.

In fact, lawmakers should go one step further. They should eliminate the sunset provision requiring the commission be extended every four years.

Though little known, The RCA plays a vital role in Alaska. Its mission it protecting consumers with affordable, reliable utility rates and services. In Bush Alaska, the commission has helped maintain the Power Cost Equalization program that helps make utility rates more affordable.

If the RCA didn't exist, consumer safeguards would be jeopardized. Currently, the RCA provides notice to the public and allows 30 days for comment if a utility or telephone company wants to change its rates or types of services. The commission then acts to approve or disapprove the utility's proposal.

The RCA's role is essential and should not be subject to political squabbles and the whims of lawmakers. It shouldn't be, but it is.

Recent political battles over the future of the RCA are reason enough to throw out the sunset provision. Legislation to extend the RCA's life for the maximum four years was twice passed by the House, but it was stopped in the Senate by one man, Sen. Robin Taylor, R-Wrangell.

Taylor bottled up the legislation in the Senate Judiciary Committee that he chairs, refusing to hold hearings during both the regular session and in the days afterward.

Taylor is acting on behalf of campaign supporter Alaska Communication Systems, which doesn't feel that it's gotten a fair shake in its battle with GCI. Taylor proposed a $300,000 study of telephone deregulation that he wants done before he'll extend the agency more than a year.

They study is reasonable, if expensive, and the Legislature was right to approve it. But it's bad public policy to hold an entire agency hostage because its performance in one area is being questioned by one man and one company.

With the exception of only ACS, an extension is roundly supported by consumer groups and utility companies. When the second special session convenes June 24, the Senate should authorize that extension for four years. It also should take the politics out of the process and eliminate the sunset provision.


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