By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Wisconsin state government’s hard left turn into wokeness is hitting every agency under liberal Gov. Tony Evers.
Not content with spreading the “equity” gospel in taxpayer-funded government departments, state regulators are now demanding businesses get on board the woke express — or else.
In February, the PSC sent out a press release announcing that all regulated utilities, regardless of size and ownership type, “will be required to provide workforce diversity data as part of the utility’s 2020 Annual Report.” The reports are due this month.
Utilities will be required to submit information about the Board of Directors and all employees, regardless of position, in various demographic categories, including women, racial and ethnic minorities, veterans, and individuals with disabilities, according to the PSC. It’s the first time utilities are required to submit workforce diversity data, “ultimately furthering” Evers’ “commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts statewide.”
The PSC also is requiring privately held utilities with at least 15,000 customers to provide information about “supplier diversity and procurement goals and actual spending for women-owned, minority-owned, veteran-owned, disability-owned, and LGBT businesses in the previous calendar year, and the utilities’ plan for implementing and realizing their goals for the following year.”
State Sens. Julian Bradley (R-Franklin) and Roger Roth (R-Appleton) want to know what “workforce diversity data” have to do with the Public Service Commission’s job of regulating utility rates in the Badger State.
Bradley says it’s more virtue-signalling from far left bureaucrats, and it’s driven to serve political ends.
“It’s not the role of the Public Service Commission to get involved in the governor’s re-election campaign,” Bradley said.
Bradley, chair of the Senate Committee on Utilities, Technology and Telecommunications, and Roth, vice chair of the committee, sent a letter to PSC Chairwoman Rebecca Valcq expressing their concerns. In the letter, dated Feb. 17, the lawmakers question the necessity of another left-wing political initiative, particularly during an international health crisis.
“It is not the Commission’s job to pursue social engineering programs for utilities through the guise of regulatory red tape,” the senators wrote. “Our state’s energy costs have long rated among the highest in the Midwest and this misguided virtue signaling will do nothing to lower rates for Wisconsin families.”
Bradley and Roth noted that many Wisconsin utilities already have created internal metrics for meeting diversity standards and are doing what they can to employ a diverse workforce based on merit — not some woke bureaucrat’s idea of quota-based “equity” employment goals. The challenge is made all the more difficult amid a severe worker shortage that business advocates say has been exacerbated by Evers’ refusal to end a weekly federal pandemic-related bonus payment of $300. The subsidy has created a disincentive for some jobless Wisconsinites to re-enter the workforce, critics say.
And all of this “social engineering” promoted as a top priority amid a ravaging pandemic in which utilities have ensured those who could not pay their energy bills wouldn’t lose power or heat.
The PSC “shouldn’t be adding bureaucracy to pursue distractions for our utilities already working to adapt to new federal administration guidelines and ever-evolving industry standards,” the senators wrote.
Valcq responded — 43 days later.
In her letter, the PSC chair noted that many utilities already make public information on “workforce diversity, supplier diversity, and energy burden.”
“Investor-owned utilities (IOUs) also are required to report information regarding supplier diversity and energy burden,” Valcq wrote.
So why create a new mandate requiring the information?
Bradley, who is black, said he finds the PSC’s methods infuriating, and he’s concerned about what the commission may do with the information. Will there be any context in the way the PSC presents the data? Bradley noted that diversity numbers naturally will look a lot different in urban areas of the state versus rural parts.
“We live in a state where black people are a significant minority. There are less African Americans in all kinds of positions here because of our population, not because there’s an issue of systemic racism,” Bradley said. “America wants equality. We’re all fighting for that. But we don’t want somebody picking and choosing data points …”
Valcq defended the PSC’s mandate.
“As an Hispanic female in a male-dominated profession, I can confidently say diversity and representation matter,” she said. “From my experience working in the utility industry, I know that the background and experiences of the people making critical decisions for utility customers can have a profound effect on customer outcomes.”
But while she insists PSC’s decisions are “based on data,” Bradley and Roth want to know what the regulator plans to do with the data. Will the PSC move to punish utilities that don’t comply — or don’t meet the PSC’s woke ideas of equity?
Valcq didn’t really answer those questions in her letter to the lawmakers. And while she said PSC staff are eager to answer any questions, a PSC spokesperson did not return Empower Wisconsin’s request for comment.