Untrustworthy? (August 17, 2014)


It is axiomatic that the bigger government gets — and it’s been growing like Topsy since the Founding Fathers voted in favor of the Declaration of Independence back in 1776 — the less the people of the United States hold it in trust.

That seems to be particularly true of the agencies of the government. The Congress itself, and the presidency, are held in disapproval by the populace, but are basically trusted, probably because its elected members can be dismissed at two, four or six year intervals.

Not so with the agencies, whose members are appointed and thus are not directly subject to the will of the people. Of late, some of those agencies have become even more untrustworthy. The Internal Revenue Service, for instance, has always been seen as a trustworthy, though oppressive, arm of government. No one ever liked the taxation imposed, but nearly everyone believed that the agency was only following orders. Now, however, given the revelations about Lois Lerner and her targeting of conservative groups just because they opposed the current administration, the IRS has become untrustworthy. If the IRS is going to pick on conservatives, after all, that is outside their legitimate function. The Environmental Protection Agency, with its green-tinted agenda, joins the IRS, as does the National Labor Relations Board and the Security and Exchange commission, both of whom have increasingly become driven by liberal agendas and not by the rule of law.

Which gets us down to the state level. In California, the state’s Public Utilities Commission (the CPUC) is widely viewed as untrustworthy, dominated by politics because it is peopled by the party in power — Democrats, currently — and not answerable to the public will. Citizens who pay attention to the doings of the CPUC

believe it sets water rates, for instance, based not on costs but on political influence. It is not unusual for private water companies to seek outlandish rate hikes, knowing that the CPUC will grant something short of the requested rate hikes but still far outstripping both inflation and the cost of doing business. The CPUC, in other words, is viewed by the public as playing along with some sort of charade, aiding and abetting private owners of monopoly water companies.

So it was encouraging to learn, late in the week, that at least in the valley’s case, an audit of area water companies’ rates and rate hike requests and costs has been requested by a member of the state legislature. We’re speaking here of State Sen. Steve Knight’s, R-Lancaster, request that the state auditor will conduct an audit of water rates in and around the town of Apple Valley. While the audit may in the end reveal that the 30 percent rate hike Apple Valley Ranchos Water Co. has requested over the next three years is justified by increased costs and maintenance, the fact that the auditor — and not the CPUC — has signed off on the hike will do much to allay water users’ resentment over what seems to be an unjustified grab for more money and thus a wider profit margin.

In his letter to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee requesting the audit, Knight listed the prevailing water rates of local purveyors. Apple Valley Ranchos charges a minimum of $22.84 a month for meters of five-eighths and three-quarter inch, and $57.10 a month for one-inch meters. Victorville charges $17.50 for the five-eighths and three-quarter inch meters and $29.45 for the one-inch. Hesperia’s charges are $19.63 for the five- eighths and three-quarter inchers, and $29.45 for the oneinch. And Golden State Water, which serves northern and eastern Apple Valley, charges $16.15 for the five-eighths and three-quarter inch meters, and $40.40 for the one-inch. Charges for actual water consumption are similarly disparately higher for the private sector companies.

The private companies argue that the publicsector purveyors — Victorville and Hesperia — are actually subsidizing their rates with offsets provided by their property tax rates.

We have no idea if this is true, but the disparities we’ve noted above tend not to sit well with customers of the private utilities. We have some confidence that Knight’s request for the audit will reveal whether public utility providers indeed charge overall lower rates than the private firms, but until the results of the audits become available — a date not yet determined — the perception of the public that someone is profiting excessively at their expense will not go away.

Let’s hope the audits are conducted post haste, reassuring the public that at least one government agency is worthy of their trust.

— Steve Williams

Source: Daily Press