The Most Important Office You’ve Never Heard Of

When it comes to politics, lots of folks are simply over it. They’re tired of the divisiveness, the rhetoric, and the smarmy out-of-staters posing in their $400 cowboy boots proving they’ve never once stepped in a cow pie. And what does it matter anyway? Every few years, we’re inundated with un-skippable commercials and hordes of flyers that go immediately from our mailbox to the trash. Somebody wins. Somebody loses. And nothing much seems to change as the average Montanan tries to navigate rising bills and stagnant wages.

Yet, one political position affects us year-round. Each month, as we hand over our hard-earned cash to pay our utility bills, we see the work of the Public Service Commission in action. Did your heating bill double this year? That’s more than an unfortunate change in prices. That’s the work, or lackthereof, of the Public Service Commission (PSC).

So, what is the PSC? And why should you care about it?  Their website summarizes the PSC as:

“[…] Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) strives to ensure that ratepayers have continued access to utility services that are affordable, reliable, and sustainable for the long-term. In pursuit of this goal, the PSC regulates the rates and service quality for investor owned electric, natural gas, water, waste-water, and legacy telecommunication companies”

Notably, the PSC is not a consumer advocacy group. The PSC website explains, “It’s the PSC’s job to balance the interests of ratepayers who are concerned about utility rate increases, with the need to maintain a financially sound utility that is capable of providing reliable service.”

However, with dramatic price increases during Montana’s coldest months, many are wondering exactly how the interests of us “ratepayers” are really being represented. Perhaps “affordable” means something different to our representative, Randy Pinocci, who currently pulls in about $108,000 per year in his role as PSC Commissioner for District 1 (which includes Cascade County).

While Pinocci’s salary continues to rise, so does the cost of natural gas heating for folks in Great Falls. In November 2021, the PSC noted a coming increase between “47% to 62%.” Link
Many of us have already felt the brunt of that steep increase when facing our 2022 heating bills. As election season gears up, we simply can’t afford to ignore the work of the Public Service Commission.
So, as I peruse my nearly $200 gas bill this month, I’m forced to wonder:
Is Randy Pinocci doing his job?

Information on State Employee pay can be found here: State Employee Pay
The Public Service Commission website can be found here: Public Service Commission