House committee OKs proposal to appoint, not elect, PRC members

A statue outside the Roundhouse in Santa Fe.

Heath Haussamen / NMPolitics.net

The proposed constitutional amendment would have to receive approval from the full House of Representatives and Senate to make the ballot in November. Last year, the Senate Rules Committee killed a similar initiative.

Patrick Lyons,who has twice been elected to the state Public Regulation Commission, says the governor and not the voters ought to decide who serves on the agency’s governing board.

Lyons, R-Cuervo, testified Wednesday for a proposed state constitutional amendment that would make state utility regulators appointees of the chief executive. He said the five public regulation commissioners have highly technical jobs, so it makes little sense to choose them in partisan elections.

Most members of the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee agreed with him. They voted 6-2 to advance the constitutional amendment to reshape the Public Regulation Commission as an appointed body.

The proposal that cleared the committee is a combined constitutional amendment by Reps. Carl Trujillo, D-Nambé, and Paul Bandy, R-Aztec. Each had introduced measures to appoint instead of elect public regulation commissioners. Members of the House committee asked them to weave their proposals into one initiative, and they agreed.

Both sponsors said most states appoint utility regulators, a practice New Mexico once used. That changed in the 1990s when legislators and voters created the Public Regulation Commission.

Each of the five commissioners is paid $90,000 a year, and numerous people with no background in utility regulation have been elected to the commission. On occasion, a governor also has appointed someone to fill a vacancy who lacked technical expertise on public utilities.

After a series of scandals involving commission members, the policy organization Think New Mexico pushed in 2012 to increase qualifications to serve on the Public Regulation Commission. That measure received voter approval, and the Legislature approved a law to implement it.

But, Lyons said, basic problems remain. He said political campaigns decide who serves, and that elected commissioners are susceptible to political pressures. Junking the system of electing commissioners is the best course, he said.

Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert, R-Corrales, agreed. “I like this,” she said.

Reps. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan, and Debbie Rodella, D-Española, voted against the measure. Alcon said any system of choosing utility regulators would be political, and Rodella said she was not convinced that the proposed reform would work.

The proposed constitutional amendment would have to receive approval from the full House of Representatives and Senate to make the ballot in November. Last year, the Senate Rules Committee killed a similar initiative.

Contact Milan Simonich at 986-3080 or [email protected]. Follow his Ringside Seat column at santafenewmexican.com.

This BBSNews article was syndicated from NMPolitics.net, and written by Heath Haussamen. Read the original article here.