Gutting Consumers’ Counsel will cost Ohioans in long run

Everybody wants to cut the cost of government, but what Gov. John Kasich and the General Assembly did to the budget of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel is even worse than penny wise and pound foolish.

Look at the numbers compiled by Consumers’ Counsel Janine Migden-Ostrander for the last seven years when she was at the helm. Her office spent $50 million in that time and by the agency’s account, it saved Ohio utility consumers $8.2 billion. Yes, that’s billion with a B, and while we suspect there are critics who dispute some of the accounting, there is no question that consumers got what they paid for from Migden-Ostrander’s office — many, many times over.

And here’s the kicker, when Kasich and Republican legislators cut the Consumers’ Counsel’s budget, they didn’t save a dime toward balancing that $87 billion deficit we were all told was staring us in the face. The Consumers’ Counsel gets no general fund money; it all comes from a special assessment on utilities.

But cut the budget the boys in Columbus did — nearly in half. In fact, the first proposal was to more than halve the budget, but then they had to add in $1.5 million to cover severance and other costs of 30 displaced employees. The effect will be that utility customers will be buying out the very employees who have been saving them hundreds of millions of dollars and providing a counterbalance to the squadron of lobbyists that utility companies send to Columbus. Those lobbyist will continue to be paid, at least indirectly, by the utility companies, but now the sound that will be heard from the opposition will be diminished, if not silenced.

She’s outa here

Wednesday, Migden-Ostrander did the principled thing. She retired rather than bend or bow. This is no financial sacrifice for her, because she is a lawyer with 30 years of experience in a specialized field and her training, intelligence and passion make her a strong candidate for any number of jobs. The job she decided to take was as a consultant to the Regulatory Assistance Project, a global nonprofit group based in Vermont.

But while she is not the loser in this, the people of Ohio will be eventually.

“She is a very talented advocate and represented her clients very strongly,” Anthony Alexander, CEO of Akron-based utility FirstEnergy, told the Columbus Dispatch. Those clients are all 4.5 million utility customers in Ohio.

Those clients are also in most cases the voters of Ohio, who should be asking their elected representatives how their interests were best served by slashing the resources of an important advocacy office, eliminating the jobs of 30 Ohioans and forcing the resignation of a ”very talented advocate.”

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