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 V.17 No.44 | October 30 - November 5, 2008 
Alibi’s Online Election Guide
Tina Larkin

Feature

Public Regulation Commission

If Jason Marks keeps his job as the Albuquerque area representative for the Public Regulation Commission, he'll continue as a methodical examiner of the state's utilities, telecommunication and insurance industries.

The PRC isn't a flashy agency. It's probably the most powerful commission in the state that people don't know much about. What has greater impact on most Burqueños than PNM's rates? Marks, the commission’s chairman, says he makes sure rates are as low as possible while determining how much the utility company needs to stay afloat. "I'm just there to make sure companies justify every dollar they get from you," Marks says.

In a recent rate case, Marks sifted out expenditures PNM didn't need and lowered the utility's rate increase by $12 million. He also voted against the emergency fuel clause, which would have allowed the company to automatically charge consumers more as its fuel expenses rose. If the commissioner retains his position, he says he'll look at setting limits on the amount of executive compensation costs that can be passed on to bill payers.

Marks is using public financing to fund his campaign, a tactic that ensures he's beholden to no businessperson or special interest.

Marks didn't run for the PRC as an environmental proponent, but he says the more he's learned, the more alarmed he's become. Our dependence on fossil fuels must wane, he says. It's unwise to be at the bleeding edge of technological advancements regarding alternative energy sources, he adds, because it's hard to tell what the return on investments will be. Still, he says 20 percent of our energy can come from renewables by 2020, and 20 percent of that can come from solar.

Marks has worked to hold Qwest accountable for upgrading the city's infrastructure and to make sure telephone bills are understandable. He also says he is the reason Albuquerque remained "the 505" and the rest of the state was forced to change to 575, instead of the other way around.

Cummins has little on his website (the only source of information available) about policy. He's mounted an anti-Marks campaign but hasn't given us a single reason to be pro-Cummins.

Marks is using public financing to fund his campaign, a tactic that ensures he's beholden to no businessperson or special interest. He's also tried to make the PRC more accessible, understandable and therefore accountable by improving its website. He'd like to see PRC meetings webcast in the future.

Marks prioritizes fairness and has accomplished a lot in four years. He's genuinely excited about renewable energy and knows the ins and outs of how New Mexico can use its natural resources.

We're glad he holds the position, and we'd like to give him the opportunity to realize some of his ambitious plans. We're pleased to endorse Jason Marks in this race.

If E. Tim Cummins is elected to the PRC, we probably won’t know what he is up to for the next four years. It strikes us as hypocritical that he writes on his website, "I’m committed to continuing my open-door policy of communication and dialogue with all of New Mexico’s taxpayers, ratepayers and consumers." If that's the case, then why didn't he come in for an interview with the Alibi? And why did fail to appear on "New Mexico In Focus," when the KNME show did its segment on the PRC?

Cummins spent four years on Albuquerque's City Council and joined the Bernalillo County Commission in 2001.

Cummins says he supports rate increases for PNM and that bankrupting the company will not help the economy. If Cummins finds his way onto the PRC, he says rate cases would be expedited more quickly. He would also leave it up to private industry to develop technology for the state's energy needs, or, as he says, "market-driven solutions."

And that's it. Cummins has little on his website (the only source of information available) about policy. He's mounted an anti-Marks campaign but hasn't given us a single reason to be pro-Cummins.

Job Description: Part of a five-member governing body that regulates complex industries in the state such as utilities, telecommunications, insurance, fire and transportation.

Term: Four years (maximum of two terms)

Salary: $90,000

Jason Marks, Democrat (Incumbent)

District 1
Includes all but the southwest part of Albuquerque

Website: jasonmarks.com

1) What experience makes you qualified for this position?

Since you elected me in 2004, I’ve worked to make the PRC an effective voice for our families, community and our future. I’ve used my education and experience to master the PRC’s steep learning curve on law and technology issues, and I’ve been a leader, serving as vice-chair for three years and chair this year.

I’m no career politician. Prior to the PRC, as a principal (non-CPA partner) in an accounting firm with seven offices, I led a national practice in health care finance. I’m a licensed attorney—UNM law school grad. My family and I live on the Westside.

2) What’s your opinion of the utilities industry in the state, and what would you change?

In New Mexico (and elsewhere), private, investor-owned utilities are the primary model for serving the public. Our job must be to regulate those companies, holding them accountable for reasonable service levels at reasonable prices.

Service: Throughout 2005/06, I sought a just resolution to Qwest’s “AFOR” investment case. The final settlement includes Qwest making up their $225,000,000 shortfall with $225,000,000 of targeted investments. Customers also received $20,000,000 in credits on their phone bills for poor service quality.

Prices: State law requires the PRC to set rates high enough for utilities to recover reasonable capital and operating costs. I won’t allow one dollar more than that legal minimum. Rising energy prices require scrutiny of every last penny. I identified and cut $12,000,000 in unjustified costs from PNM electric rates and saved consumers millions in other rate cases. I voted against PNM’s fuel clause rate increase because shifting 100 percent of fuel and related operating costs to customers is unwise.

Executive compensation for our large investor-owned utilities is much higher than at similar-sized publicly owned utilities. If re-elected, I will be looking at setting reasonable limits on the amount of executive compensation that can be passed on to ratepayers.

3) What would you do to improve the energy industry in New Mexico?

Remaining dependent on fossils fuels is foolish. Spiking energy prices this year have hurt us all, but it’s nothing compared to what we’ll face without investments in alternatives. In beautiful New Mexico, global warming will decimate agriculture and outdoor recreation. I’m finding solutions: successfully fighting for renewable energy laws, making it harder to build new coal plants and promoting energy efficiency. I expect utilities to invest now in commercial-scale solar projects and increase support for customer-owned renewable generation. I’ll continue working with other states on transmission projects so New Mexico realizes its great potential as a renewable energy exporter.

4) What needs to happen to improve transportation in the state, and what would you do to make that happen?

In the past, consumer protection and safety enforcement over motor carriers was lax. Under my watch, that’s changed. Now every motor carrier of persons we regulate (taxis, limousines, ambulances, buses, shuttles) is subject to regular safety inspections. We’ve taken underinsured carriers off our roads and put rip-off artists out of business. In our Insurance Division, I’ve initiated efforts to see the reduction we’ve achieved in uninsured driving translate into lower insurance rates for New Mexicans.

5) What other issue do you find relevant to your district, and what’s your position on it?

During my first term, we made big changes in the PRC’s Insurance Division, making it more consumer-focused and friendly, and removing an insurance superintendent who had a long history of questionable dealings, along with his chief deputy. Our challenge is continuing this progress, pushing forward our legislative proposal to bring competition and accountability to the title insurance industry, and working with other governmental entities to moderate prices for home, auto and health insurance. Issues like the area code matter to me because they matter to our community. That’s why I successfully worked to keep Albuquerque the 505.

E. Tim Cummins, Republican

District 1
Includes all but the southwest part of Albuquerque

Website: cumminsforprc.com

Did not respond to questionnaire.

 
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