Maryland’s highest court has ruled that the state’s legislature overstepped its authority when it passed a law firing the five members of the Public Service Commission and directing the Governor to appoint replacements from a legislature-selected list of candidates.
All is not yet sweetness and light in Maryland, however, as one prominent gubernatorial candidate is promising to fire the five current appointees and “replace them with independent and competent members who will protect the public” should he be elected. And no, doubt, should those “independent and competent members” not be “independent and competent” in just the way the candidate wants, he would fire them too.
State legislators also want to help keep the state’s utility business on edge as they consider whether new, more carefully crafted legislation or a constitutional amendment will be the needed in order to grab the power they seek.
Is there no student of the history of state regulatory commissions available to the legislature to explain why it may not be a good idea for them to have that power? Once upon a time many corporations were chartered directly by acts of state legislatures — banks, toll roads, and some early gas and electric utilities — and “regulated” by ad hoc committees during political crises, but over time legislatures gave up that control in exchange for the relative stability provided by professional regulatory staffs and multi-member commissions (and the associated benefits of a more stable environment). The Maryland legislature seems determined to take at least a small step in the wrong direction. They should reconsider.