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Utilities tax would fund advocate for consumers
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Looking for new money to help balance the budget, Gov. Bob Holden has resurrected an old idea -- taxing utilities to fund the state's consumer advocacy office.
Holden's proposed $19 billion budget would stop providing general tax revenues to the Office of Public Counsel and instead fund it entirely through a new utilities tax.
The tax most likely would be passed on to utility customers. But that might be appropriate, considering that the office benefits the customers, said John Coffman, the acting public counsel.
"The people who we represent would essentially be the people paying for our services," said Coffman, who backs the proposed tax.
Some consumers see it differently.
"That would make the Office of Public Counsel beholden to the utilities and, in my opinion, that's a problem," said Lynn Stuhlman of Jefferson City, a former lobbying coordinator for the AARP who still informally lobbies state lawmakers.
Legislation by Rep. Carol Jean Mays, D-Independence, chairwoman of the House Utilities Regulation Committee, would provide that all utilities regulated by the state be taxed up to 0.03 percent of the gross instate operating revenues.
That would include many of the state's largest electric, natural gas and telephone companies, but would exclude cooperatives and city-owned utilities.
Holden's budget, the tax would supply the full $930,135 allotted for the public counsel's office.
Similar taxes have met with failure when proposed in the past.