The state utility regulator appointed earlier this year by Gov. Doug Ducey wants to strip his new agency of some of its powers and give them over to others directly under the control of the governor.
Andy Tobin said Tuesday it makes no sense for the Arizona Corporation Commission with its limited staff to be responsible for 6,000 miles of track and 2,500 crossings on top of checking mechanical equipment and monitoring hazardous cargo. He said it likely would make more sense to have that housed at the Department of Transportation where the people who inspect roads and bridges and the trucks that use them could be cross trained.
He said the sale of securities — those not already regulated by the federal Securities and Exchange Commission — could better be handled at the Department of Financial Institutions, which regulates banks and the mortgage industry, or maybe even at the Department of Insurance, which already licenses people to sell certain kinds of policies to Arizonans.
And monitoring pipeline safety, Tobin said, should be transferred to the Department of Agriculture. That’s the agency that swallowed up some of the duties of the now-defunct Department of Weights and Measures, the agency that Ducey put Tobin in charge of shutting down last year in the name of government efficiency.
Tobin wants all of these ideas studied by an outside consultant.
The proposals came less than a week after Tobin voted with other commissioners to quash a bid by Bob Burns to have an outside inquiry solely on the question of whether the commission’s activities and decisions were being improperly influenced by the money that others, including regulated utilities, were spending on commission races.
Tobin said he would prefer to have the commission spend its money looking at more useful issues, like whether some chores should be moved elsewhere.
But Tobin, acknowledging the questions that have been raised about the 2014 commission election, said it might also be appropriate for that same consultant to look at how outsiders were spending money to influence commission races and decisions.
There have been allegations that Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest electric utility, secretly funneled money into a separate committee that spent $3.2 million to elect Republicans Tom Forese and Doug Little in that 2014 race.
APS, for its part, won’t deny the spending. Burns has the power to subpoena the utility’s books. But that might not prove anything if the cash came from Pinnacle West Capital Corp., its parent company.
Burns contends ratepayers are entitled to know if a regulated utility affected the outcome of the race.
Tobin said he understands the desire to know who put money into the race.
“But that’s not what the law is,’’ he said. And he questioned spending up to $95,000 of commission funds, even if it did prove that APS or Pinnacle West was the source of the money.
Instead, Tobin said he is willing to have the commission consider whether there should be “guidelines’’ for the participation of utilities and others in elections. He said a consultant could explore what utility regulators in other states do.
But he conceded that, no matter what a consultant finds, the current majority on the commission is unlikely to force any utility or its parent company to disclose its spending on races.
The Arizona Constitution sets up the five-member elected commission as a separate branch of government, with its own unique powers which are generally not subject to review or curtailing by the governor or Legislature.
Tobin said he’s not looking to give up what has been the commission’s core — and most publicly known — function of setting rates for investor-owned utilities and deciding where high-voltage power lines can be placed across the state. While the commission is constrained by certain laws, it decides how much a utility should be able to take from customers and how the burden should be spread among residential, small business and industrial customers.
But he said much of the rest of its chores are more ministerial. And he said there’s no reason they can’t be handled by other existing state agencies.
Take, for example, the fact that corporations must file paperwork with the commission before they can do business in the state.
“All we do here is record,’’ he said, with companies filing their initial articles of incorporation and annual reports. “We don’t say it’s right.’’
Tobin said that probably could be done just as well by the secretary of state’s office which already records partnerships. And it does one other thing: registers names for businesses.
What that means, Tobin said, is a would-be business owner has to first go to the secretary of state, reserve a name, and then bring the required paperwork to the commission. He said this could all be handled at one office.