Ratepayers deserve break if tax cut is approved, commissioner says

By Jack Money, Business Writer

The Oklahoman - December 1, 2017

Ratepayers should get a break on their electricity, natural gas and phone bills if a version of Congress' tax measures to cut corporate taxes becomes law, a member of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission said on Thursday.

Commissioner Bob Anthony made the remarks during a commission meeting as he discussed a resolution approved a couple of weeks ago by the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners during its national conference.

The resolution calls on Congress to not insert any language into a tax cut measure that would prohibit public agencies regulating electricity, natural gas and phone service companies from considering how a cut in the nation's corporate tax rate would impact those companies' earnings.

Routinely, regulators consider companies' earnings (typically called excess revenues) when they set the rates they are allowed to charge consumers for the products they provide.

'Consumers ought to enjoy some benefit'

Anthony said a tax break like the ones being considered by Congress could make a difference of tens of millions of dollars in income for the state's main electricity providers.

"Some people are fond of saying that investor-owned, taxpaying public utilities don't really pay taxes. They collect taxes from ratepayers and then pass it on to the federal government," Anthony said.

"So, if that rate changes, then fairness would make you think the consumers ought to enjoy some benefit," he said.

Anthony said the commission successfully helped consumers benefit from corporate tax cuts enacted by Congress and President Ronald Reagan, and added this resolution asks only that Congress not take away its ability to do the same, going forward.

Brandy Wreath, director of the commission's public utility division, said his staff is following the issue.

"We would not file one case affecting everyone," Wreath said, "because that would ... create an administrative nightmare.

"But we would file cases with individual companies based on impact to deal with potential outcomes," Wreath added, noting those actions likely would impact Public Service Co. of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Gas & Electric and Empire District Electric Co.

"We are poised and ready to file cases with them to address those tax implications," Wreath said.

Commissioners didn't vote to support the resolution from National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, but Commission Chairman Dana Murphy said she felt it would be appropriate for individual members to reach out to Oklahoma's Congressional delegation to make it aware of the agency's concerns.

© 2017 The Oklahoman

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