Cuomo touts legislation to give New York more power to punish utility companies for performance

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday sweeping legislation that would change how the state oversees utility companies and allow it to penalize them for poor performance.

Long a critic of the state’s power companies and other service providers, the aftermath of Hurricane Isaias, when more than half a million residents remained without electricity, gave Cuomo another chance to sound off on their performance.

Wednesday’s remarks came as Hurricane Zeta was approaching Louisiana, with its remnants expected to pass through or near New York on Thursday.

He called for an investigation into companies that have franchises with New York after the state had to provide 7,000 emergency workers to supplement utility crews in restoring services.

“You pay a bill 365 days a year, and if there’s a storm they have to be prepared for it,” the governor said Wednesday.

The bill would remove the cap on fines the state can levy. Currently, the state can impose up to a $100,000 fine per incident or .02 percent of annual intrastate gross revenues. The governor said the fines are so low that they become a cost of doing business.

It also would prohibit franchises from profiting off infrastructure if their charters are revoked.

One possible target for revocation is American Water, a provider to communities on Long Island. The governor noted that some customers pay nearly five times the rate of others, while there have also been concerns about the water quality.

Cuomo also wants to limit the corporate expenses residents pay, including executive salaries.

“If the utility wants to pay someone multiple millions of dollars, let the shareholders pay the CEO,” he added.

The bill is backed by the Long Island delegation in the legislature, and members of the delegation joined Cuomo on his briefing call to express that support.

“In August, the superstorm ravaged the island for weeks. Thousands of New Yorkers got excuses instead of electricity,” said state Sen. Kevin Thomas, D-Levittown, who chairs the Senate Consumer Protection Committee. “The superstorms are the new normal, and it is high time that our public utilities uphold their end of the bargain by safe and reliable service to ratepayers or pay the price.”

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