BOOK LOOKING? let us help RUTH & JOHN McCULLY No obligation search for rare and out-of-print books ARJAY BOOKS Rt. 8, Box 173 River Hills Road Austin, Texas 78703 Happiness 1 Newspapers aS ‘ Magazines Political Specialists Printing Signs and Placards Bumperstrips By 1? Office Supplies 100% Union Shop FUTURA PRESS Phone 512/442-7836 1714 SOUTH CONGRESS P.O. BOX 3485 AUSTIN, TEXAS L .1 voters approved it, on all utilities except the phone company. The commission would start with a $1 million appropriation out of general revenues and would thereafter be financed by a levy on the regulated utilities. The House bill also contains a formula on which utility rates will be based that is more protective of consumers than the Senate bill. Wilson called his bill a true “public” regulation bill and said the Senate’s version was a “utility solvency bill.” After five hours of debate, there were at least 20 amendments on 819 still pending. Most of them were designed to chip away at the bill’s strength. Rep. John Bigham of Belton rose to cut off debate by moving the previous question. Wilson agreed to accept a couple of the amendments still on the desk, and urged the members to pass the thing as it stood. “The heat ought to be on the damn Senate,” said Rep. Abe Ribak of San Antonio. Rep. Dick Reynolds of Dallas said, “Let’s get his bill on over to Senator Moore’s wastebasket.” The House passed the thing 105 to 31. The members tinkered with it a little more the next morning and then passed it on 4 The Texas Observer third reading by a 96-29 vote. Wilson predicted that Moore, chairman of the Senate State Affairs Committee, which hears all regulation bills, would be “favorably inclined and most responsive.” So much for that bit of Pollyannaism. Moore was not in the least favorably inclined. The Senate had passed its own utilities regulation bill, S.B. 42, which was passed over to the House and holed up in the House State Affairs Committee. It was a far weaker bill than the House’s, giving the utilities a big break on the rate base formula, leaving natural gas regulation to the cities, and allowing them to continue to regulate the electric companies for at least two years. On May 22, when H.B. 819 was bounced over to Moore’s committee for a hearing, the old demagogue was enraged. “If there is going to be a bill, it must go to conference committee,” declared Moore. “I question the good faith of my brothers across the hall. They’ve adopted a bill so tough, so radical in parts, that they know it can’t pass the Senate. What they have forced us to do is to pass out this bill [a butchered version of the original S.B. 42 then before the committee] . Theirs was a delaying action, solely and completely that, done to prevent the passage of any utilities regulation whatever. My purpose is to send them another bill and let them act. We will not be caught in the trap they have set for us.” THERE WAS a minimum of testimony before Moore’s committee. Three utility lobbyists all said 819 was awful. The publisher of Texas Parade magazine objected to what he interpreted as a provision of 819 that would prevent utilities from advertising. Sen. Ron Clower of Garland tried to explain that advertising was not prohibited by the bill, but disallowed as an expense that companies could charge to customers: advertising expenses would, under 819, have to come out of stock-holders’ pockets, not rate-payers’. \(On May 13, Dallas Power & Light, Texas Electric Service, and Texas Power & Light took out a full-page ad in The Dallas Times-Herald urging President Ford to veto the strip-mining bill an ad Even the liberals on the committee, Clower and Lloyd Doggett of Austin, voted to kick the new Senate bill out of committee, just to get a conference committee going. Doggett said, “I’m voting for this just to get a conference committee, but I really think we should save the people of Texas some money by voting out a decent bill like 819. That would save the people some money because all next week during the conference committee meetings all these utilities lobbyists you see here today will be up here and they’ll he charging their expenses off as part of what utility customers have to pay for.” Moore pointed out huffily that even S.B. 42 would correct that particular abuse: Doggett agreed, but noted mildly that neither 42 nor 819 will be in effect next week. Which brings us to the matter of the friendly conference committee. Now, most folks assume that the House side will be stout. Given the overwhelming margin by which 819 passed the House, decorum and precedent suggest that Clayton should appoint a four-one or at least three-two set of House conferees who favor a strong regulation bill. It is possible, of course, that Clayton will name two-two and a weak-o: we shall see. In the meantime, there were some leaks about who the Senate conferees would be. According to usually reliable sources, they will be either Doggett or Bob Gammage of a quondam liberal who is very weak in this area: started by carrying a regulation bill written by Searcy Bracewell, a utilities lobbyist with plenty political clout around Moore. The swing man on the Senate side, we understand, will be Don Adams of Jasper, not an inspiring prospect for consumer groups. The consumer groups will strike back with a state-wide television broadcast on May 28. The plan was to get Atty. Gen. John Hill to narrate some film of just why utilities regulation is necessary. A coalition of good-guy groups, including the AFL-CIO, Common Cause, consumer groups, etc., will foot the bill. The plans were still not firm as of our deadline, but the idea is to generate the kind of public support and outrage that followed the passage of the bread tax in 1969. Harry Hubbard, president of the AFL-CIO, was seriously ticked off when he was refused permission to buy television time on the network outlets in Houston and Dallas/Ft. Worth. The utilities companies are big advertisers with those stations. Hubbard thinks there is some connection. The political factors favoring strong regulation have been helped along by . a recent court decision. John Hill lost his effort to block a Southwest Bell rate raise by injunction. The Third Court of Appeals in Austin refused to let Hill’s injunction against the raise remain in effect because, the court ‘said, the Legislature had not given Hill the power to so move. With natural gas going into interstate pipes at 55 cents per mcf, and into intrastate pipes at up to $1.75 per mcf, with phone bills going up again, electric bills quintupled and sextupled in those cities hapless enough to be served by Coastal States, the makings of a true consumer revolt are in the offing. John Wilson took a poll in his very conservative district, and found that 87 percent of his constituents favored strong utilities regulation. It is shaping up into a classic confrontation. Ten men will decide on the bill: some three dozen highly paid lobbyists will he working on them fulltime, and the voice of the people … M.I.
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