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Frankenstein energy tax rises again

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Publication: Waukesha Freeman (Conley); Date: Dec 16, 2010; Section: Opinion; Page: 10A

Frankenstein energy tax rises again

New utility assessment coming to your energy bill

As the peasant farmer in “Young Frankenstein” would warn us, “When Democrat is loose, windows must be tight.” The end of the latest Legislature’s term is no exception.

When the state Senate was in session, Democrats did not take up Gov. Jim Doyle’s proposed renewable energy mandates because they did not want to be responsible for increasing energy costs in a bad economy.

The renewable energy mandates would have increased the costs of energy production, costs that would have been passed along to the energy consumers.

Democrats actually tried claiming that such a hidden energy tax increase was a jobs bill. They even perverted the Public Service Commission (PSC) to supporting the preposterous claim, permanently damaging that body’s reputation.

Of course, nobody really believed that increased energy costs would create more jobs than they destroyed, and the state Senate Democrats killed the bill.

Fast-forward a few months and the PSC is at it again. Once again it wants to throw the “third switch” on Wisconsin’s economy and increase our energy costs.

“Not the third switch!”

“Throw it, I say, throw it!”

The PSC resuscitated the Frankenstein monster energy rate increase when it proposed increasing the assessment on public energy utilities to pay for an energy conservation program. As WisPolitics.com reported, the assessment will be $120 million in 2011, $160 million in 2012, $204 million in 2013, and $256 million in 2014.

Wisconsin’s energy utilities already pay $94 million for this energy efficiency program. Now the PSC proposed a 172 percent increase in just four years.

Of course, the big bad energy utilities (that pay nice dividends to keep retirees from eating dog food) won’t be paying those costs. You will, in the form of higher energy rates.

Wisconsin was once known for its low energy costs, but energy costs have been going up in Wisconsin. Now they’re higher than in most of the Midwest. These higher energy costs make Wisconsin businesses less competitive, and they make Wisconsin less competitive for attracting businesses from other states.

Instead of heeding the results of the last election, Democrats on the Joint Finance Committee actually approved the PSC plan. All 11 of the Democrats on the committee voted in favor while all four Republicans opposed it.

For all their professed love of the middle and working class, look how quickly Wisconsin’s Democrats were willing to sacrifice them to appease the environmentalists. This increased assessment would have a dual devastating effect. Not only would the increased rates hurt businesses (and add to unemployment) but would also directly hurt energy rate payers at every income level.

Incoming Joint Finance Committee Co-Chairman Robin Vos promised to address the new assessments on energy utilities as part of the state budget that is due in June. Republicans should not wait that long.

The Joint Finance Committee should take up the issue when Governor-elect Scott Walker takes office and calls a special session of the Legislature to deal with job creation. Killing this job-killing hidden tax on energy consumers certainly fits in with the theme of the special session.

Walker and the Republicans will also need to take care that future appointments to the PSC understand that their mandate is not to enact an unpopular “green” agenda.

As for the Democrats, it appears unlikely they learned anything from the last election. This episode should remind the public that the current Democratic legislators in Wisconsin just can’t help themselves. They have to attack business anyway they can, even through backroom methods like this.

This tax on energy is coming at the same time Democrats in the Legislature are considering the state employee union contracts negotiated by Doyle. Even when defeated, Democrats in the Legislature are still dangerous.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://www.wigderson.com and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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