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Business, Free Enterprise and Constitutional Issues; Pro-Life and Pro Second Amendment. Susan Lynn is a member of the Tennessee General Assembly. She serves as Chairman of the Consumer and Human Resources subcommittee, a member of the Finance Ways and Means Committee and the Ethics Committee. She holds a BS in economics and a minor in history.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

TRA: My Op Ed in Today's Tennessean

Regulator could be phased out

Tennesseans need an independent utility oversight entity

No one knows better than I that we have a lot of departments, boards and commissions in Tennessee; more than 270 — that’s a lot of deck chairs on the ship.

The legislature’s Government Operations Committee reviews every one of these agencies, including the Tennessee Regulatory Authority (TRA). Each year, Gov Ops decides to eliminate a few of these agencies because their duties prove no longer necessary, while other lawmakers legislatively act to create more.

To reduce size and cost of government, the Haslam administration is kicking around the idea of doing away with the TRA; perhaps dispersing its duties among other areas of government. The TRA is the agency that regulates monopolistic utilities in Tennessee, and despite some recent reform, regulating monopolies like gas, water, sewer, electric and telephone utilities is still absolutely necessary.

TRA is housed in the legislative branch to ensure independence. It decides economic matters, not environmental. It is funded by fees and taxes from the utilities it regulates. Ideas to create efficiency deserve consideration, because we do need to streamline and reduce the size of government. But simply doing away with TRA by dispersing duties among other agencies probably won’t reduce the size of government, just the overall number of agencies.
Elimination probably won’t produce savings, either, because no matter where TRA’s duties are eventually housed, the duties would still need to be performed.

There also is the question of dispersing staff. Utility economics and law are complex and specialized. Dispersal could produce staff that generalize rather than specialize.

Every state has a utility regulator, and TRA functions as a central place for consumers to go with their utility concerns — perhaps to the chagrin of the utilities but definitely to the empowerment of consumers. Monopolies receive the most restrictive form of government intervention, and housing these entities in a common area serves to isolate them from other businesses that do not need such a high degree of regulation.

TRA’s apparent embrace of green concepts in utility economics has been frustrating, but that is an ideological rather than structural problem. Structurally speaking, I’ve often wondered why the Utility Management Review Board and Water & Wastewater Financing Board are not housed under TRA rather than the comptroller.

We could do many things to streamline and reduce the size and cost of state government, as well as the number of regulations. Recession is a good time to re-examine all agencies and unpack the laws and rules that govern them, reconsidering each from the ground up, reviewing their constitutional purpose, the law, and regulations according to a specified series of very important considerations.

Some states have employed a decision matrix to help discover areas for reform; moving their state from disorder to order, reducing entry barriers for business, and helping citizens more easily find services.

Practically everyone is for reducing the size and cost of government, but removing the deck chairs just to force people to find a seat somewhere else doesn’t streamline or reduce the size of government — just the overall number of deck chairs.

Former state Rep. Susan Lynn served on the state legislature’s Government Operations Committee from 2002 to 2010, eventually rising to the position of chairman.


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