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Mont. PSC backs off rule on exec. pay disclosure

Matt Gouras, Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. (AP) -- The state's Public Service Commission decided Tuesday to back off a proposal that would have allowed utilities to keep the salaries of their top three executives private.

The regulatory agency decided that instead of repealing a rule that says the salaries cannot be treated as confidential information, it will modify the rule. The unanimous panel voted to start work next week on a plan to clarify how companies can request that the salary information be treated confidentially.

Commissioners had voted earlier this year to start the process of repealing the rule, which had originally been put in place by different commissioners in 2010. The commission is killing the process by simply not finalizing the rule-making process.

The panel would just "let it die a natural death," said Vice Chairman Bob Lake.

The PSC said Tuesday that public comment showed a lot of opposition to repealing the rule. Commissioner Travis Kavulla, who opposed the original effort to repeal the rule, welcomed the change of direction.

"These businesses are monopolies. Most consumers have no choice where to get their water or power or natural gas, and they are required to pay rates established by the government for those services," Kavulla said. "Those rates include executive compensation costs, so why wouldn't consumers be able to know what they are paying for?"

The commission had been told by opponents that the information is considered public under the state's constitutional right to know.

But Mountain Water Co., which provides water to the city of Missoula and surrounding areas, has sued the PSC and argued that the rule requiring disclosure violates the state constitution's right-to-privacy provisions and exceeds the commission's authority.

Lake said he hopes the proposed changes to the rule will also help settle that legal dispute.