The three SCC judges are the state's supreme regulators. The odds are you can't name a single one of them, but outside of the governor, the House majority leader and the Senate majority leader, they may be the three most powerful men (and/or women) in Virginia. - Jim Bacon, Bacon's RebellionThe SCC is Virginia's public regluator. That means they are responsible for monitoring and overseeing state-licensed corporations. In last year's 33rd District Delegate election, SCC reform was part of Marty Martinez's platform. Since then, no one has picked up the torch of reform, and we are living with the consequences.
Many of the issues currently facing the Commonwealth can be traced, in part, to a SCC bound to consider the interests of corporations over consumers. Three come immediately to mind:Congressman Frank Wolf to Delegate Joe May to Attorney General Bob McDonnell have made this a "major issue" and proposed investigation and legislation. All of this is so much heat and very little fire. The issue of toll increases would not be an issue if the SCC had real authority to regulate state-licensed semi-monopolies and a statutory mandate to look out for the voters of Virginia before large corporations. And every one of those three had the time and authority to make something happen in their tenures of office. Frank Wolf could have taken action while in the majority on the Transportation Committee in Congress. Del. May has had ample opportunity to act in his thirteen years in the Assembly, also serving on the Transportation Committee there. And Attorney General McDonnell was the "chief patron" of the Transportation Trust Fund bill while in the Assembly, surely he could have taken action on the issue of regulation and tolls while there, if not while Attorney General.
And yet none of them ever took action. Instead they chose to keep the SCC toothless and beholden to the corporations it is supposed to regulate, so that they could have an opportunity to have an issue in their elections, without actually doing anything about that issue while in office.
Next we come to Dominion Power. Dominion is the definition of a state-regulated semi-monopoly. The Commonwealth counts on the SCC to oversee and regulate this powerful corporation. And yet, when the re-regulation bill was before the Assembly, the Assembly ignored the warnings of the most senior SCC Commissioner and passed a bill essentially written by and for Dominion. Now, Loudoun's Delegate Joe May rails against the Power lines made possible by legislation he approved last year without any concern. And his answer for SCC reform is to meet with the power companies, and ask them how it should be done.
Meanwhile, in Congress, Frank Wolf supported the legislation to designate National Electric Corridors, the Energy Policy Act of 2005. It is this act, which allows the Federal Government to overrule state oversight and regulation in the interests of national electrical stability, gives Dominion Power the de-facto authority to stick its high-tension lines wherever it deems necessary in Virginia. So while Frank Wolf publishes policy papers against the power lines, when he had the opportunity to actually do something about them, he voted in favor of Dominion and against Virginians.
So our SCC has been asked to "regulate" Dominion with both hands tied behind its back. First, the Assembly passed a bill requiring the SCC to "consider" but not "require" actions by Dominion. Then, the SCC is told that is decisions are likely to be moot if they decide against Dominion because of Federal legislation.
Finally, we come to health insurance. Since President Bush took office, the health insurance premium for the average American family has gone from $6,230 to $12,106. The number of uninsured Americans has increased by 9 million (it's now over 15% of the population), and the number of uninsured children in Virginia stands at 9.3% of the population. These numbers are the result of two trends, the increasing cost of insurance premiums (even Jerry Kilgore knows this), and the reduction in benefits provided by employers.
In Virginia, all insurance companies, including health insurance companies, are monitored and licensed by the SCC. When premiums increase, it is the SCC that has jurisdiction over the increases. Thus, the SCC could be given authority by the Assembly to look more closely at premium increases, and provide enforcement mechanisms that insure that premium increases are being used for health care, rather than profit and marketing. Virginia's SCHIP program, FAMIS, is already in place to provide a model for coverage and efficiency (even Jim Gilmore thinks so) the SCC could use to measure licensed insurers. A model mechanism for looking out for Virginia's consumers is there for the implementation, if only the Assembly would do so.
But our Republican representatives and candidates would prefer to have issues to campaign on, than solutions to Virginia's problems. As a result, the SCC remains a whipping boy, purposefully kept at the mercy of powerful interests.
Reform of the SCC is the beginning and foundation of a newly vibrant citizen perspective on state-licensed corporations in Virginia. It may be the case that the only way to get this done is to elect people like Judy Feder to Congress and a Democratic majority in the Assembly. But we can hope that the legislators and leaders in Richmond will not wait for the next election to begin the work of reform that is so necessary.
Let's get this done, Richmond.