Deregulation Sounds Good…Until It Happens

There are some who believe that the country is moving towards a free-market economy. They watch the attacks on regulations and laws that protect consumers, the environment, and small businesses and believe this is what the public wants. The belief that the majority of Americans want to eliminate the rules and regulation that limit the power of corporations seem to allow legacy media to think of Governors like Pennsylvania’s Josh Shapiro as the only type of candidate who can get elected. Is the country moving in those directions? Or is what we are seeing is new alignment?

There shouldn’t be any doubt that the millionaire club, the United States Congress, supports big businesses and the wealthy. Congress continues to say that tax cuts will lead to increased tax collections and that if the Government gives significant tax cuts to the wealthy, the money will “trickle down” to poor and working people. They complain that rules and regulations are hurting our country. It is a strategy that has been used since Ronald Reagan became President and a policy that has not worked. But are deregulation and lower taxes on the wealthy what people want, or is it the power of dollars buying elections?

There are examples of states considered very conservative, having very progressive economic policies. An example is the Public Bank of North Dakota. North Dakota has a Republican Governor and two Republican Senators, its only congressperson is a Republican, and in its State House, there are 125 Republicans and 16 Democrats.

Unlike “progressive” California, Massachusetts, or Vermont, North Dakota has a public bank. North Dakota’s bank, funded with public money, creates special programs and revolving loan funds to provide low-cost funding for schools, community infrastructure, water projects, and emerging technologies. In other states, it’s the private banks that make money from government programs. North Dakota’s bank offers low-cost college loans and helps small businesses compete.

But it’s not just a public bank. The State of Alaska has “profit sharing”; each citizen gets a percentage of money from the oil pumped out of the ground. Texas has the Railroad Commission, the oldest regulatory commission in the nation. Pennsylvania has a Milk Marketing Board which tries to help small dairy farmers.

Perhaps the best example that citizens don’t always want to privatize is the Publicly owned utilities. More than 49 million Americans get their power from a public utility. 49 States have at least one public power system. Since 2000, more than 60 communities have considered municipalization, buying private utilities to create public power, according to a 2019 study for the Edison Electric Institute, which represents investor-owned utilities.

In Pennsylvania, citizens have begun to fight back against water and sewer public utilities privatization. The recent purchases followed by double-digit rate hikes have shown people how much more water and sewer service costs after a stockholder-owned utility buys it. As the Inquirer wrote, after Aqua PA bought public systems, prices went up 98% in Limerick Township, 73% in East Norriton, and 69% in Cheltenham. Thousands of citizens show up at hearings to demand their town refuse to sell its infrastructure.

What may be a surprise is even in very conservative areas, citizens are trying to find ways to turn stockholder-owned utilities into public power.

In Florida, the town of Winter Park voted to develop a public power company. The legislation removed the for-profit utility and created Winter Park’s public power.

In Maine, a state that elected a Governor, Paul LePage, who claimed to be Trump before Trump, the citizens have petitioned to place a question on the ballot: Should the state of Maine buy the stockholder-owned electric utilities and convert them into public power utilities?

It is unclear whether the ballot question will be voted up or down. And as most people have guessed, the stockholder-owned utilities are spending millions of dollars to defeat the initiative.

It is a ballot question that Hall Monitor will be following, not because it is local, but because it may answer the question: Do people support the public policy Congress and the President has given us? Referendums, where voters have a direct say over policy and legislation, give us a sense of what people want. We will look for any ballot question that puts “trickle-down” economics to a public vote. It could be the reason the nation’s public policy has been deregulate, decontrol, and privatize has more to do with who pays for campaigns and television advertising than with the people’s will.

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