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Report: Gutting TX Consumer Protection Agencies Would be Costly

May 9, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas - The House State Affairs Committee is expected to reauthorize the Public Utilities Commission this week, but a controversial amendment to the bill could hamstring Texas' consumer protection agencies, according to a Public Citizen report released today. The amendment is designed to save the state about $2.5 million, but the report says the savings are small, compared to the billions that Texans would pay in higher insurance and utility rates without state oversight.

The study's chief analyst, Andy Wilson, who works at the Public Citizen Texas office, thinks some lawmakers are trying to take advantage of current anti-government sentiment in order to please business constituents lobbying for deregulation.

"Legislators might feel better because they've cut two state agencies, but this is incredibly industry-friendly legislation. That means more profit for industry in the long term, and higher rates for consumers."

Agencies facing elimination or reduced independence are the Public Insurance Counsel, Public Utility Counsel and Public Interest Counsel at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Wilson hopes the House will block amendments that would eliminate, or reduce the independence of, these agencies, which help citizens fight corporate polluters and seek fairness from utilities and insurance companies. Even if the House does not amend HB 2134, he fears Gov. Perry will use his line-item veto pen to slash their funding.

Wilson warns that Texas' reputation for good schools, low taxes and low cost of living has already been slipping. With deep cuts to infrastructure happening now, he predicts new taxes are inevitable, when the public gets fed up with crumbling services. Gutting the consumer watchdog agencies won't help, he adds.

"If they are eliminated, things are going to run even more wild, Texas is going to become a state that is expensive to live in, and we're going to have to increase taxes - a complete shift from where we were, just decades ago."

He believes the offices need to be strengthened, not weakened. His group supports calls for a single, independent agency for consumer protection.

The complete report is available at www.Citizen.org/Texas.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX