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VOL. 35 | NO. 25 | Friday, June 24, 2011




Governor ponders future of Tennessee Regulatory Agency

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NASHVILLE (AP) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says the functions of the Tennessee Regulatory Agency might better be performed by the state's executive branch.

In an interview with the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Haslam raised the possibility of doing away with the agency, which determines rates for most for-profit utilities and sets service standards.

The Republican governor has pushed reviews of state government operations since taking office in January, saying he's looking for more efficiency and accountability in government.

"Should there be a TRA, given the change in regulatory function?" Haslam asked. "If so, what size should it be?"

The state Legislature removed telecommunications from TRA jurisdiction in 2009 and did away with a rate ceiling on telephone and other communication services.

TRA Chairwoman Mary Freeman says the agency has a legitimate role.

"You have 49 other states that have public service commissions, and though we serve different areas, I think it's a necessity," Freeman said.

The agency's mission is to find a balance between the interests of consumers and those of the monopolies or near-monopolies TRA regulates, she said.

An independent agency, TRA has members appointed by the governor and the General Assembly.

Eddie Roberson, a TRA director who has spent 36 years with the agency and its predecessor, the Tennessee Public Service Commission, said the agency is needed.

"I think that it is relevant," he said of the TRA, "but I think it is also relevant for the agency to be reviewed."

State Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, chairs that upper chamber's Government Operations Committee. He said adding TRA to the agencies his committee is reviewing is no problem.

"All ideas need to be on the table," Watson said.

Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, is the House Majority Leader. He supports a review of TRA, but questions whether its functions belong under the executive branch.

"I think the general consensus is there are some big utilities or monopolies or near-monopolies that need to be watched. I don't think anyone wants to get rid of that function of government — they're just looking for better ways to deliver that service."

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