State budget writers have moved to kill funding Wisconsin’s utility watchdog group. The Citizens Utility Board represents ratepayers before the state Public Service Commission. Just last week the legislature’s Finance Committee unexpectedly voted to cut an annual state grant of $300,000 which CUB has received since 2009.
“One of the things that we were so shocked by was how quickly this came about,” said Kira Loehr, CUB’s executive director. “We had no idea this was happening.”
The budget axe fell at the behest of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce. Loehr says CUB tangled with the chamber over costs of converting a coal fired plant to natural gas.
“We wanted steam customers, who actually use it on a daily basis . . . to pay a fare share of their costs,” said Loehr. “That is the only thing that I can think of, as to why MMAC would have brought this.”
Loehr said the state funding cut will “cripple” CUB’s effectiveness on behalf of ratepayers, and that donations cannot be expected to make up the difference.
We already do an astonishing amount with the limited resources that we have, and we simply can’t keep up with the strength and power of the utilities and the numerous outside experts and attorneys that they have, with a smaller staff,” she said. CUB has a full time staff of four.
“I can’t get over the irony. Ratepayers will still be required to pay for all of the costs for the utility lawyers, for the utility expert witnesses. And those are not capped.”