The challenging economic environment has always meant a tough budget balancing act for the Governor and his policy makers.  Ohio is dealing with a projected $8 billion shortfall, which is the context for the administration’s mathematical acrobatics. 

Both the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio are funded through assessments paid by utilities, not funded through the state’s general revenue fund (In other words, not funded by taxpayer dollars).  The cuts then do not directly save taxpayer funds.

Theoretically, if the fees on utilities are lessened, then those savings could be passed through to save consumers.  But there’s no guarantee that the monies – $25 million over the biennium – from proposed reductions in the OCC budget and the PUCO budget would benefit consumers.

What is clear is that the relatively modest fees are leveraged into large savings for utility consumers.

The OCC costs residential households in Ohio about $1 per year, and per the agency’s estimates, has saved those consumers $2.70 annually. 

In state fiscal year 2010-2011, OCC said it saved residential consumers over $54.8 million directly through its intervention in cases with utilities, and claims $1.9 billion in savings as a result of collaboration with other advocates where the OCC had a lead role. 

Add to that the $1,428,346 that the PUCO says it saved consumers who called their consumer hotline, and that’s a lot of savings.

 Nearly $2 billion is a lot, even by Wall Street Standards.

As previously reported, the proposed biennial budget would slash the OCC budget by 51 percent, under the auspices of streamlining state government.  The call center operated by the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel is only 9.5 percent of that agency’s budget.  The remaining 41.5 percent cut the agency could sustain would hinder the investigatory and legal actions the OCC leads or partners with other groups on behalf of consumers. 

A Governor’s budget is document that reflects his policy priorities, not just a ledger of state funds. Because the cuts proposed to the PUCO and the OCC do not help the Governor with the shortfall, we are left with two questions:

Are these cuts an act in demonstrating shared pain across all agencies, regardless of revenue source?

Or is it an effort to reduce the oversight and dampen the voice of critics of some of the state’s largest corporate citizens?

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