Tallahassee Lawmakers May Make an About Face on Phone Rate Increases

Phone rates will jump $355 million over the next four years if the rate hike legislation approved in December gets past a court test.

House Speaker Byrd, once a solid supporter of the hike, says court rulings make the competition he sought by passing the legislation impossible to achieve.

"So there is a dark cloud of uncertainty hanging over this law. The only thing certain at this point, the only certainty is that local telephone rates will increase," says Byrd.

Byrd’s change of heart is good news for consumers, but bad news for politicians, and it left the phone company lobbyists speechless.

Sprint lobbyist Patrick Jennings said, "I was surprised."

The phone rate hike bill wasn't just a Republican effort; plenty of Democrats supported it too, so the speaker's 180 turn on the issue has created political problems for everybody.

Senate Minority leader Ron Klein is one of the Democratic lawmakers who voted yes.

“It was very disappointing though that the Public Service Commission just seem to rubber stamp what seemed to be a large increase without all the backup," Klein says.

And those 30 lawmakers who voted against the legislation last year are saying “I told you so.” One of those is House Minority Leader Rep. Doug Wiles of St. Augustine.

"I think it puts anyone who voted for it in a difficult position. I mean we are now saying that we had a revelation overnight," Wiles says.

But many question Rep. Byrd’s motivation. He is running for the U.S. Senate. When asked if it helps his campaign he responded, “If you do the right thing, I think that's what we are sent here to do."

A lot of lawmakers in Tallahassee have a lot of back peddling to do. A House committee is scheduled to take up the repeal in a day or two. It is likely to be ready for a House floor vote as early as next week. For now the state Senate is taking a wait and see attitude, noting the bill was debated and passed twice in the last two years.