Sometimes, there is good news. Sometimes, “the system” works the way it is supposed to. For instance, back in June, an Administrative Law Judge awarded Empire District Electric Co. basically everything it requested - one of the largest rate increases in Oklahoma history! The ALJ had awarded an approximate 31 percent increase in the base rates and a 20 percent increase to the electric bills of the 4,689 customers in and around 10 cities and towns in Ottawa, Delaware and Craig counties. It would have been devastating to many families, the schools, churches, municipalities and businesses that are all customers. It would have hurt the whole area, not just its customers. But our local folks continued the fight against the Canadian owned utility giant to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the last step before going to court. We took a two pronged approach to beat this overreaching: a legal battle led by Tulsa attorney Tom Schroedter for the Oklahoma Industrial Energy Consumers, a group of local industries and Tribes that put up the money for the legal fight, and a public relations campaign. Both were necessary, and working together, it appears we were successful. I am very proud of our citizens and businesses that helped. The Corporation Commission was flooded with calls, emails, petitions and letters. City governments and Counties passed resolutions objecting to the requested rate hike. The Miami Regional Chamber of Commerce, led by Steve Gilbert coordinated the effort. AARP got involved on behalf of all the senior citizens on fixed incomes. All our local legislators, State Representatives Chuck Hoskin (D, Vinita) and Josh West (R, Grove) and Senators Wayne Shaw (R, Grove) and Micheal Bergstrom (R, Adair) joined me in letting our opposition to the rate hike be known to the Commissioners. Although the official order has not yet been released, the Commission has let it be known that the ALJ’s award will be rejected and a much more fair and modest increase will be allowed. The Commission will allow Empire to recover the proportionate share of the costs of the federally mandated improvements at their generation facilities from their Oklahoma customers. That makes sense. Congratulations to all who helped.
Secondly, in the wake of the Oklahoma Supreme Court throwing out the tobacco “fee” which everyone knew was nothing more than a tax, designed to balance the budget, there has been some actual, meaningful, bipartisan conversation about how, when the Governor calls the Legislature back into a special session, we can take some long-term steps to help try to fix some of Oklahoma’s budget issues, rather than slapping another band-aid on our catastrophic financial hemorrhaging. House and Senate Democratic leadership has been talking with the Governor’s office and in turn with Senate (Republican) leadership. Since the unanimous tobacco ruling, the Supreme Court has upheld, in a 5-4 opinion, the elimination of a sales tax exemption on new car purchases. But, there is still one more case waiting for the Supreme Court to decide (concerning a new fee/tax on hybrid and electric cars). Once that is done, most legislators believe the Governor will call us back. She will define what issues we can address in the special session and the big question is will she let us try to solve some of the State’s income deficiencies, or will she only let us fill the gaps left by the taxes thrown out by the Supreme Court?
Conspicuous in their absence in those talks, is the House (Republican) leadership. Hopefully, they will want to come to the table, or at least, by pressures from the public and enough of their own caucus members that want to fix the problems, they also will be willing to sit down with the others for some meaningful conversation. Hopefully, based on the conversations that have been going on, the Governor will allow us to try to fix some of the problems. Hopefully, like the NE Oklahoma community did in the Empire case, we can all work together for the benefit of all Oklahomans. Hopefully, this will be one of those times that the system works like it is supposed to.
Psalms 35:10 O LORD, who is like you, who rescue the afflicted from the powerful, the afflicted and needy from the despoiler?
To contact Representative Ben Loring (Dist. 7 -Democrat) – 201 16th Pl. SW, Miami, OK 74354; 2300 N. Lincoln Blvd., Oklahoma City, OK 73105; 405.557.7399; firstname.lastname@example.org.