Here we go again. Another administration. Another ballooning deficit. Another brilliant “light bulb” idea flashing in the brains of another cadre of bureaucrats trying to cover for the budgetary overreach of federal administrators and legislators.
When was the last time Washington number crunchers doing the bidding of the Gucci-shoed crowd looked at the assets of the Tennessee Valley Authority like pieces of low-hanging fruit to satisfy the appetite of the federal budget? It’s not necessary to be a U.S. history buff, just go back one administration. Under President Obama the idea of slicing off a crucial piece of TVA for the benefit of the paper pushers was floated in 2013.
That balloon didn’t fly then and shouldn’t fly now. As Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander put it so succinctly, this latest proposal by the Trump administration to sell TVA’s transmission lines is “a looney idea with zero chance of becoming law.”
The “looney” part is certainly correct. The “zero chance” part is hopefully on target.
As Maryville native Alexander noted, all that Obama administration effort accomplished was to undermine TVA’s credit, raise interest rates on TVA’s debt (which has been declining, by the way) and threaten to increase electric bills for 9 million ratepayers.
Where’s the sense in this recurrence of sham economics? It brings to mind a satirical take on opportunism dating back centuries.
Little Jack Horner / Sat in the corner / Eating a Christmas pie / He put in his thumb / And pulled out a plum / And said, “What a good boy am I!”
Washington might take TVA for a plumb, but it’ll take more than a nursery rhyme to justify this money grab from TVA ratepayers. The fact is TVA’s debt is not backed by federal taxpayers, and the agency does not get any federal taxpayer subsidy or federal appropriations.
By the numbers alone, TVA justifies its mission to improve the quality of life in the Tennessee River Valley. The agency has supported the creation and retention of 400,000 jobs and $48 billion in new capital investment for the region. That’s over a period of just the past five years.
Since when does economic success demand the dismantling of an engine that drives prosperity? TVA customers are the very same ratepayers who paid for the more than 16,000 miles of transmission lines that feds want to put on the auction block. The bill to the federal government for building those lines, enough miles of wire to crisscross the continental United States six times? Zero dollars and zero cents.
There are others who have their own math to guide their lobbying efforts — and the addition to their bottom lines totals far more than zero. Consider this March headline in Forbes: “Investor-Owned Utilities Salivate Over Trump’s Idea to Splinter TVA and BPA.”
BPA is the Bonneville Power Administration, which along with the Southwestern Power Administration and the Western Area Power Administration also are in the federal crosshairs as providers of hydroelectricity to millions of Americans at affordable rates, as Forbes noted.
Since the numbers don’t work, what motivates these misguided attempts to gut TVA? Possibly politics? If so, they sell the voters of the Tennessee Valley short. Could the Obama pencil pushers have figured that Tennessee Valley residents wouldn’t vote their way anyway, so what’s the loss? Or do the Trump math wizards believe that people who live in the valley will vote for them no matter what their own self-interest?
The following list illustrates the fallacy of either perception. It includes 14 colleagues of Alexander who signed onto a letter to the president urging him to reconsider the administration’s proposal to sell TVA’s transmission assets. Astute political observers will note the wide gap between left and right on the political spectrum.
Along with Alexander, co-signatories on the letter include Sens. Bob Corker, R-Tenn.; Doug Jones, D-Ala.; and Roger Wicker, R-Miss.; and Reps. Diane Black, R-Tenn.; Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.; Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.; Jim Cooper, D-Tenn.; Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn.; John Duncan, R-Tenn.; Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn.; David Kustoff, R-Tenn.; Phil Roe, R-Tenn.; James Comer, R-Ky.; and Trent Kelly, R-Miss.
This is not about politics, it’s about people. This is no time to dismantle what works. Keep the Tennessee Valley Authority intact.