Cerabino: Campaign cash dwarfs reason in utilities regulator choice

Oh, no. Not the dwarf-tossing enthusiast.

We have a new appointment to Florida’s Public Service Commission, which is designed to represent the taxpayers’ interests when it comes to setting rates and overseeing the state’s largest electric utility companies and other regulated industries.

In theory. But we don’t live in theory. We live in Florida. And so as you might imagine, the public gets served all right — but not the way originally imagined.

Here’s an example. Two years ago, Florida Power & Light decided to invest in speculative fracking in Oklahoma. This sort of business can be risky, so FPL came up with a nifty idea: Instead of getting its own shareholders to foot the bill, FPL would just make its Florida utility customers pay for the company’s $750-million-a-year out-of-state venture.

This is why we have a Florida Public Service Commission. To carry through with this cost-shifting plan, FPL would have to get the alleged advocates of those Florida electric consumers to agree to shoulder the expense of the company’s Oklahoma gambit. Crazy, right?

The Public Service Commission’s professional staff thought so. It recommended the five-member commission advise FPL to charge its shareholders, not its Florida customers.

But last year, Florida’s Public Service Commission unanimously ignored its own staff and approved having FPL’s ratepayers pay for the company’s Oklahoma project. And not only that, the commission said the power company could do this for the next five years without needing to get re-approval.

Now, that’s what I call service. Just not public service.

This is what happens when utilities companies employ one lobbyist for every two state legislators, and anybody in a position to make an appointment to a regulatory board is already receiving lavish political contributions from the industries being regulated.

So when Gov. Rick Scott, the largest recipient of campaign cash from the state’s utility companies, recently appointed former state legislator Ritch Workman to an open spot on the Public Service Commission, it went without saying that whomever Scott would appoint would be a docile addition to the industry-friendly board.

But Workman is such a bad choice that even when you expect a bad choice, it’s breathtaking to behold. It’s like nobody’s even going through the motions of trying to fool us anymore.

Workman, who worked as an Uber driver while legislating, was available to be nominated for this $131,000-a-year job on the Florida Public Service Commission because he was a term-limited state representative from Melbourne who lost his bid to win election to the Florida Senate last year.

So he had the chance to fail up, getting to make about $100,000-a-year more than he would have made had he been successful in staying in the Florida Legislature.

As for being a suitable candidate for being a public advocate, there’s this: Three years ago, while serving as chairman of the Florida House Finance and Tax Committee, Workman did the utilities companies a huge favor by blocking a popular initiative — one that eventually passed in a ballot amendment with 73 percent voter approval — to allow tax breaks for rooftop solar panels installed on homes.

Homeowners with solar panels sell energy to the power companies instead of buying it from them. Can’t have that if you’re doing the bidding of the power companies.

“I just don’t see the need to continue to expand the incentives and underwriting of solar,” Workman said at the time.

Yes, this was the man selected, pending approval by the Florida Senate, to be one of our five watchdogs empowered to keep the utilities companies from abusing their monopoly power.

But when it comes to being an advocate on power issues, I mostly think of Workman as the strongest voice for dwarf tossing in Florida.

It was Workman who filed a bill to bring back the barbaric and dangerous barroom spectacle of tossing small human beings for entertainment. The game of strength, imported from Australia, was outlawed in Florida in 1989.

Six years ago, Workman thought it was time to start throwing dwarfs again in Florida.

“I’m on a quest to seek and destroy unnecessary burdens on the freedom and liberties of people,” Workman said. “This is an example of Big Brother government.

“All that it does is prevent some dwarfs from getting jobs they would be happy to get.”

So if you’re keeping score at home: Freedom to toss FPL bills, bad idea. Freedom to toss dwarfs, good idea.

We’re all the dwarfs now. Prepare to get tossed.

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