- Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker vetoed the Legislature's cut of funding to the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) and other interveners in Public Service Commission (PSC) proceedings. In vetoing 104 budget items the day before he announced his 2016 Republican Presidential nomination run, Walker said the PSC has the right to compensate interveners.
- The CUB defends customers’ interests when utilities ask for rate hikes and new infrastructure. The veto restores the PSC’s ability to award funds to CUB and relieves advocacy groups from matching PSC expert witness funding.
- But the governor isn't allowed to add funding to the budget during the veto process so the Legislature's nearly 65% cut in the $1.3 million, two-year funding for the CUB and other interveners remains in place. The PSC now has $371,200 to provide for interveners annually, down from $1.04 million in each of the past two years. That contrasts with unlimited ratepayer funds utilities can use in proceedings.
Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC), an ally of Wisconsin electric utilities, has acknowledged that it has been behind the push to weaken the consumer advocate, and petitioned the legislature for the defunding.
“Only CUB has enjoyed the benefit of special funding from ratepayers. We believe that is fundamentally unfair,” Vice President for Government Affairs Steve Baas wrote in an op-ed.
Of the 50 states, 41 have consumer advocates that are funded by taxpayers or ratepayers, according to National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates Executive Director Charles Acquard.
While CUB operates with 4 employees and a budget under $1 million per year, the average state consumer advocate has a staff of 10 and a budget of $2 million, Acquard told the Milwaukee Sentinel-Journal.
For their 2014 investment in CUB of $475,000, Wisconsin ratepayers got help in PSC proceedings that saved them $161 million, CUB Executive Director/General Counsel Kira Loehr told Utility Dive.
Critics say We Energies, Wisconsin's major utility, is working through MMAC to eliminate CUB. It and the other Wisconsin electric utilities deny the allegations and say MMAC is working alone.