Three proposed state constitutional amendments regarding the PRC are on the ballot.
One would change who could run for the five elected positions on the commission. The others would streamline the PRC by removing from its control the state insurance division and the chartering of corporations.
Proponents of the changes say the agency would be able to focus more on its primary job of regulating utilities and telecommunications if voters approve the reforms.
All three amendments were promoted by the nonpartisan group Think New Mexico, which persuaded legislators to put them on the ballot.
Fred Nathan executive director of Think New Mexico, said no one amendment is more important than the others.
“They’re like my children. I love them all,” he said.
Not everybody does.
Ben Hall, a sitting public regulation commissioner from Ruidoso, says the amendments are unnecessary, even insulting to the public.
“They won’t help the citizens of New Mexico one bit,” said Hall, a Republican.
He is especially critical of Constitutional Amendment 2, which would direct the Legislature and governor to approve a law increasing the qualifications for the five elected public regulation commissioners.
“The PRC would have higher qualifications than we have for president, Congress, governor and the Legislature,” said Hall, himself a former state representative.
Nathan counters that the regulatory commissioners have highly technical jobs, such as determining whether a monopoly utility company should receive a rate increase. Regulatory commissioners need the skills of judges, and not everybody qualifies to run for the bench, Nathan said.
Public regulation commissioners make $90,000 a year, but the jobs now call for the barest of credentials. A commissioner must be at least 18 years old, a resident of the state and have no felony convictions.
The increased qualifications, if approved by voters, would take effect in 2014.
State Sen. Carroll Leavell, one of the Legislature’s most conservative members, said he favors the changes.
“We’ve had the PRC for 17 years, and we’ve continued to have problems with every administration,” said Leavell, R-Jal.
One he has followed is Constitutional Amendment 4, which would create an independent nominating commission to appoint a state superintendent of insurance.
Leavell, who runs an insurance agency, said no state but New Mexico mixes utility regulation with supervision of the insurance industry.
The other proposal would transfer from the PRC to the secretary of state the duties of corporation registration.
Hall said the move is counterintuitive, given that 80 percent of the corporation registrations now are handled by the PRC. The smaller portion is with the secretary of state, so why move operations there? he asked.
The PRC is responsible for processing the paperwork of certain type of businesses, such as limited liability companies. The secretary of state
registers other businesses, including limited liability partnerships.
Nathan said it would be more efficient and less confusing to consolidate all business registrations and filings into a “one-stop shop” at the secretary of state’s office.
Then, he said, with less on its plate, the PRC could sharpen its focus on utilities.
Various legislators, notably Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, said they were worried that moving corporation services from the PRC to the secretary of state could end up costing taxpayers money. Nathan said costs actually should decline because of service consolidation.
Nathan likes to say that the proposed changes have “tri-partisan support” at the PRC. Three sitting commissioners — independent Douglas Howe, Democrat Jason Marks and Republican Patrick Lyons — back them.
Like Hall, the fifth commissioner, Democrat Theresa Becenti-Aguilar, opposes all three amendments.
She said the PRC had improved since she took office in 2010 as the representative of northwestern New Mexico. Becenti-Aguilar says no sweeping changes through constitutional amendments are warranted.
Nathan’s organization was working on the proposed reforms last year when the PRC splashed into the headlines because of a troublesome commissioner.
Jerome D. Block Jr., D-Espanola, stopped showing up for work at the PRC and eventually pleaded guilty to two felonies, identity theft and fraud with a state credit card for gasoline purchases.
Block resigned from office as the state House of Representatives was gathering evidence to determine if he should be impeached.
Nathan said his group’s campaign is not about Block or any other individual. Still, the public may focus more on the reforms because of Block’s thin resume and crimes.
Block, now 35, is a high school graduate who had no expertise in science, engineering, law or other fields that can be valuable to regulatory commissioners. He won a close election for a PRC seat that his father, Jerome Block Sr., once held, taking advantage of his name identification.
Gov. Susana Martinez chose Howe as a short-term replacement for Block. Howe, who leaves office at year’s end, has a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Pennsylvania and 30 years’ experience in the gas and power industries.
Lyons said the PRC went from having a do-nothing commissioner in Block to a star in Howe.
Milan Simonich, Santa Fe Bureau chief of Texas-New Mexico Newspapers, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-820-6898. His blog is at nmcapitolreport.com
The PRC amendments in a nutshell
Constitutional Amendment 2
Would direct the state Legislature and governor to enact a law increasing the qualifications for elected members of the Public Regulation Commission.
Constitutional Amendment 3
Would end the PRC’s authority to charter and regulate corporations. These duties would shift to the secretary of state.
Constitutional Amendment 4
Would remove the PRC’s authority to regulate insurance and create an independent nominating commission to appoint the state superintendent of insurance.