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Friday, April 18, 2014

CPUC to seek higher budget for its operations

The three-member Commonwealth Public Utilities Commission decided Tuesday to ask for a higher budget for its operation while seeking to remove the cap on the fee it can assess a regulated entity.

Commission chair Joseph C. Guerrero, members Dave Guerrero, and Oscar Quitugua adopted the two resolutions in Tuesday’s meeting and will transmit them to the Legislature for action.

The commission derives its operations budget from the fees it assesses the entities it regulates. These entities include the Commonwealth Utilities Corp, IT&E, and other entities that it may soon regulate: GTA Services LLC and Docomo Pacific.

Guerrero, during Tuesday’s deliberation, disclosed that based on the Budget Act of 2014, the commission was appropriated a continuing budget of $213,253 for the entire fiscal year. However, the commission’s projection indicates that this amount is not enough to fully carry out the function and mission of the regulating body, such as its need for members’ training.

The resolution adopted Tuesday demonstrates the need to amend the commission’s budget, for legislative approval. The body seeks a $316,000 budget for this fiscal year’s operation.

The chairman described this proposed amount as the normal cost of operating a utilities commission. He said this is way lower than what other utilities’ commissions receive in other jurisdictions such as in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which has over $1 million budget for its commission.

Prior to the resolution’s adoption, commission chair Guerrero assured his colleagues that the commission has funds to accommodate the budget increase.

Also Tuesday, the regulating body adopted a separate resolution asking the Legislature to repeal Public Law 15-35, which set a ceiling of $135,000 on the fee the commission can assess against any entity it regulates.

Saipan Tribune learned that the commission is regulating only one entity at the moment, CUC.

“There is a cap on how much we can assess a regulated entity and it seems that this create unfair advantage for entities with smaller revenues compared to CUC,” according to the chairman, adding that this is also in contrast to the provisions of the statute that created the commission.

The chairman said that entities who may want to question the CPUC are allowed to appeal because there is a “check and balance” in the current commission’s operation. Once approved by the Legislature, the commission will go back to session to approve with finality the “draft” budget for fiscal year 2014.

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