Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Public Affairs and Administration

First Advisor

Dr. Peter Kobrak

Second Advisor

Dr. Donald Alexander

Third Advisor

Dr. Kathleen Reding


This study examines the decisions made by state public utility regulatory commissions from the perspectives of two primary theories of regulatory decision making-- the public choice and public spirit models. The public choice model posits that an agency’s decisions are responsive to the pressures placed upon the organization by competing external interest groups. The public spirit model postulates that an agency’s decisions reflect the relative values of those with authority or influence within the organization. The study hypothesizes that each is incomplete and proposes a process model based on variables derived from both theories.

The research analyzed 240 utility rate case decisions issued by 12 state commissions over the 20-year period from 1974 through 1993. Each decision was analyzed to determine the issues in dispute, the positions taken on each issue by participating interest groups, and the commission’s decision on each issue. The log it form of the probability model was applied to develop a regression equation in which the probability of a specific commission decision on an issue was a function of specific external and internal factors.

Statistically significant results were derived for the proportion of state product derived from manufacturing, the backgrounds of commissioners, and the position adopted by the agency staff. The results suggest that both internal and external factors affect agency decision-making, but that internal factors predominate.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access