Some things in life are just so wonderful that we wish we could relive them over and over. While at one of my son’s basketball games, I was talking to the grandparent of a teammate when a particularly adorable young man dribbled the wrong way and shot at the opponent’s basket. The grandparent looked at me, laughter in his face, and told me to “write an article about this!”
So while I won’t ever be able to relive that fleeting moment, it is filed in my memory bank. Like this moment, good ideas can also stand the test of time. Long before those early leaders penned and signed the Declaration of Independence, the desire to live freely led thousands of people to America.
Unfortunately, some bad ideas remain timeless, too. Somehow we all seem to grasp for false hope and pray for different results each time. You’ve probably laughed at the concept of repeating the same mistake while watching “Groundhog Day” where Bill Murray’s character relives the same day over and over until he finally gets it right.
Well, our federal government seems to have a Groundhog Day of its own. During President Barack Obama’s administration, I wrote about the bad idea to privatize the Tennessee Valley Authority and other federal power programs. Selling TVA to the highest bidder was a surprising suggestion from an administration that generally fa-vored a more active federal government and was sometimes distrustful of the types of big businesses that would have been interested in making such a large purchase. Thankfully, Congress never acted on the suggestions.
Recently, President Donald Trump has made a similar recommendation to sell only the transmission system owned by TVA. These are the huge towers holding up massive wires that deliver electric energy from power plants to the areas that need it. From there, your local power company distributes the power to your home, farm, business or school.
Under the Trump budget proposal, TVA would continue to own the dams and power plants while someone else would become the “middle man” to move the power from point A to point B.
The 9 million people depending on a local utility to deliver the energy TVA produces all benefit from a simple fact: At no point of the process does a single cent of your money become a dividend or profit. If a for-profit company were to purchase some or all of TVA’s assets, its motivation would be to maximize investment with a return, producing a profit that doesn’t otherwise exist today. That would ultimately mean higher bills for you with no corresponding benefit.
I often have to remind lawmakers that TVA has no money of its own; it only recovers its costs from its 200 or so customers (like your co-op). Of course, as a not-for-profit company, your co-op does the same thing by recovering its costs in the rate it charges you. So, in the end, any changes to the structure of electricity delivery in Tennessee that costs money would necessarily come from your pocketbook because electric ratepayers, not taxpayers, have paid for TVA’s assets.
Much like Phil Connors, the main character of “Groundhog Day,” the federal government is making the same mistake today that it did the day before. And it is a mistake that will not solve any problem that anyone actually faces. The real mistake is not looking for new models to make TVA even better than it has been in the past. If the federal government decides that it no longer wants to own TVA, the answer is much simpler and fairer than selling it on the auction block: The people who paid for TVA deserve to have it back.