Rep. Birmingham joined with Wallace H. Walker, secretary of the Public Finance League, and others to urge favorable action on their measures to ease setting up municipal electric plants, during a March 4 hearing of the Legislative Committee on Light and Power.
Birmingham pushed for enactment of legislation to prevent power companies, “drunk with exorbitant profits,” from appealing to federal courts, according to a report in the Boston Globe, March 5, 1931, p. 4. The state should have the sole authority to determine the amount of property and price for a town to set up a municipal power plant, he argued.
The previous year, a special legislative commission set up to probe control of electric and gas companies in Massachusetts. The commission noted that these companies make profits through contracts for management, engineering, purchasing, and other services, which it regarded as a “very serious abuse,” according to an article in the National Municipal Review, May 1930, pp. 322-323.
Instead, the commission recommended that control over these contracts be vested in the Department of Public Utilities, which should have the power to terminate any contract where the charge is unreasonable. The panel did not recommend the direct regulation of electric and gas holding companies and opposed legislation intended to break up the existing electric and gas system or to restrict consolidation.
In response, Birmingham issued a dissenting report in which he criticized the commission for not holding public hearings. He said there was a need for a fixed rate base and favored a system of contracts in which companies would agree to the state’s cost system or face the loss of valuable rights under the law.
Birmingham also supported enabling municipalities the ability to take over ownership of electric and gas provisioning without being required to purchase company properties. He argued that the rates for electricity and gas were excessive and that the public had not been adequately protected.
In 1932, 1933, and 1934, Birmingham introduced a number of bills that would regulate rates charged by electric and gas companies, but none of them made it out of committee.