Original Document
Original Document
Governor Gifford Pinchot, Excerpt on Public Utilities from his First Message to the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, February 10, 1931

Public Utilities

The public utility question looms steadily larger in the public mind. When I had the honor of laying before the General Assembly in 1925 the report of the Giant Power Board, the people were little informed and less interested concerning the unjust burden they were forced to carry became of the unconscionable charges and political domination of public utilities in Pennsylvania. Today there are few questions more widely discussed, and none upon which public sentiment is more unanimous.

The power of public utilities ineffectively regulated to fix charges for necessaries of life, without relation to the cost of rendering the service, is in effect the power to tax. Whenever, as in Pennsylvania, the Public Service Commission is the catspaw of the corporations instead of the protector of the people widespread injustice is inevitable.

The toll unfairly taken from the people of this Commonwealth by reason of the unrestrained power of public utilities to set their own rates takes from the helpless rate payers and fare payers many tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars every year. It is your duty and mine to HOC that the plain people are relieved of this unfair, oppressive, unlawful, and unnecessary load.

The demand for justice to the people from public utilities must go hand in hand with the determination to give justice to the public utilities. I have no desire that any public utility should be deprived of fair treatment in even the smallest item. On the contrary, I demand now, as I have demanded for many years, that fair, nay generous, returns upon the money actually and prudently invested in public utilities should be assured to them.

But I am unalterably opposed to the excessive rates which, especially in this time of business depression and widespread unemployment, impose unjustifiable hardships upon farmers, workers, business men, and citizens generally, which unreasonably increase the cost of living, and inflate the cost of doing business, to the widespread injury of the many and the unconscionable profit of the few.

I repeat to you what I said to the General Assembly in 1925:

"No subject has come before you at this session, nor will any come, that holds within it so vital and far-reaching an influence as this over the daily life of the present and future men, women, and children of Pennsylvania, and of the whole United States. "As Pennsylvania and the Nation deal with electric power (and other utilities) so shall we and our descendants be free men, masters of our own destinies and our own souls, or we shall be the helpless servants of the most widespread, far-reaching, and penetrating monopoly ever known. Either we must control electric power, or its masters and owners will control us."

In proof of what I said six years ago, I call your attention to the unbridled Statewide political activity of certain public utilities in the campaign of last fall. In particular I cite the activity of public utility officials and their lobbyists in the recent election of President pro tempore of the Senate. The numbers and the activity of these men in Harrisburg at the time of that election was without previous parallel.

I assert without fear of contradiction that the people of this Commonwealth have the right to know the facts in this matter, and I urge upon the General Assembly a thorough, open, and unbiased investigation of the treatment accorded to the people of Pennsylvania by public utilities, and of their rates, service, control, management, financial arrangements, propaganda, and political activities.

On behalf of the people of Commonwealth, I ask that whatever tribunal may be so constituted that its fairness will be recognized. To that end, I suggest that a body composed of tempore of the Senate, by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and by the Governor, the latter chosen to represent the public at large, would meet with the general approval of the people.

It should never be forgotten that the purpose of such an inquiry is, and can properly be, nothing else than the welfare of the people of this Commonwealth. For that reason the consuming public should be directly represented.

The public utility question, not only in Pennsylvania but throughout the Nation, is not merely a question of rates and service. The unrestrained political interference of the utilities has made it a question of who shall rule. The very right of the people to govern themselves is at stake. No greater question can ever confront a democracy.

Credit: Courtesy of the Pennsylvania State Archives
Back to Top