Some state lawmakers are pushing legislation to create the State Office of the Utility Consumer Advocate.
On the surface, who could object to having an advocate in place to represent the interests of residential utility customers across New York State?
But when you get past the deceiving name attached to this proposal, you quickly realize the office will produce no tangible benefit for utility customers and, instead, only add to the already bloated bureaucracy of New York State government.
As a result, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership opposes this legislation (S.3356/A.180).
Appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate, the Utility Consumer Advocate would duplicate the work and responsibilities of already existing offices charged with protecting New York’s consumers.
The intended mission of the Utility Consumer Advocate would directly overlap with the current mission of the Public Service Commission and its offices of Consumer Policy and Consumer Services, as well as the Department of State’s Utility Intervention Unit and the Office of New York State Attorney General.
State dollars also already pay for the operations of the Public Utility Law Project (PULP), a non-profit organization that has been advocating for customer protection for New York State utility consumers since 1981.
Most troubling, this bill would specifically prohibit the Utility Consumer Advocate from working to protect utility consumers from state-imposed taxes, fees and surcharges frequently added to utility bills.
These additional costs, mandated by New York, are routinely passed on to consumers with little to no information or advance notice.
The State’s heavy reliance on this fiscal gimmick is a leading reason why New York consumers pay some of the highest utility rates in the country.
The Buffalo Niagara Partnership encourages Legislators supporting this bill to redirect their attention to address the root cause of New York’s high utility taxes, fees and surcharges in an attempt to actually lower utility bills for consumers in New York State.
The Partnership will continue to track this bill and advocate against its passage as the State Legislature begins its final weeks of session.