Leader Blues

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Our money goes where?

Paul Suskie has been on the job as the state’s top utility regulator for only a few months, but he wasted no time earning our confidence. Suskie was the North Little Rock city attorney who ran for attorney general last year (with our support) and then got the chairmanship of the Public Service Commission as sort of a consolation prize, or so it seemed.

His first big case is Entergy Corp.’s application for a $106.5 million rate increase, one of the biggest rate increases in Arkansas history. Almost a third of every homeowner’s new electricity charges would be used to fatten the lifestyles of the corporation’s top executives in the form of bonuses, stock options, jet travel, country club dues, golf vacations, football tickets, catered parties, personal financial advice and help on their personal taxes. A delinquent company telephone bill that had soared to $934 also was thrown into the rate base as a justification for future earnings.

On the last day of the rate hearing this week, Suskie drolly told an Entergy official who had been testifying about the company’s needs that he had been traveling around the state meeting with utility officials to familiarize himself with energy problems. He visited the offices of the Farmers Electric Cooperative at Newport and found that the furniture in the boardroom was from the 1960s. More than that, it seemed functional and the co-op people seemed perfectly comfortable with it. Then Suskie got to the point.

“Do you think when Entergy pays for basketball tickets and then wants ratepayers to pay for them — do you think that’s prudent? Do you think the [company] does a good job of engendering cooperation with its customers?”

The Entergy official did not have a ready answer. But he said he could not address why Farmers Cooperative had not modernized its executive furnishings.

“Maybe they didn’t need to,” Suskie replied. “Maybe they do just fine engendering cooperation with their customers.”
Suskie might have continued that line of questioning with the top Entergy executives.

He might have asked, for example: What is lacking in the life of Entergy’s CEO that he is not able to acquire with his current level of compensation — a measly $18 million last year — and that is so vital that the state should sanction hard-pressed home and business owners to buy it for him?

It is not a churlish question, although its kind is never asked at these very civil proceedings. But it is one that to ratepayers seems utterly relevant.

We suspect that Paul Suskie and, we hope, the other commissioners will take those questions and the assumed answers into account next month when they decide the case.