Daniel F. Spulber


Deregulatory Takings and Breach of the Regulatory Contract

J. Gregory Sidak, Daniel F. Spulber

Over the past century, as the regulatory state steadily expanded its reach, courts frequently addressed claims that regulatory actions amounted to an unconstitutional taking. Recently, however, legislation in the telecommunications and electric power industries have brought deregulatory concerns to the fore.

In this landmark Article, Mr. Sidak and Professor Spulber present the first detailed analysis of the interaction between the Takings Clause deregulation, network pricing, and contract law. In the typical case of regulated industries, firms and their investors agree to bear considerable “incumbent burdens” in exchange for a regulated rate of return. Sidak and Spulber first demonstrate that this arrangement represents a regulatory contract and find that recent deregulatory measures constitute breach. The authors then argue that whether or not a regulatory contract in fact exists, recent mandatory unbundling in the electric power industry and open-access regulation in the telecommunications field effectuate a taking without just compensation. Finally, relying on concepts such as investment-backed expectations and the efficient component-pricing rule, the authors not only demonstrate that damages would be equivalent under either contract or takings theory, but also warn that governments could face enormous liability for their deregulatory measures.

Givings, Takings, and the Fallacy of Forward-Looking Costs

J. Gregory Sidak, Daniel F. Spulber

Mr. Sidak and Professor Spulber extend here the analysis in Deregulatory Takings and Breach of the Regulatory Contract, published last year in this Review. They respond to comments and criticisms raised not only by Professors Baumol and Merrill, but also by Judge Williams and Professor Williamson in their Comments published last year. Sidak and Spulber begin by exploring the constitutional limitations on the government’s ability to redefine the public purpose to which a regulated utility has dedicated its private property. Then, the authors examine whether the government has made “givings” that implicitly compensate the regulated firm for its diminution in value owing to the imposition of policies mandating network unbundling at regulated prices. Sidak and Spulber refine the limiting principles for the recovery of stranded costs that they articulated in their earlier article and show how those principles reconcile with the actual treatment of losses from deregulation in disparate industries. Next, they expose the economic fallacies in the notion of “forward-looking costs” as that term has been used by the Federal Communications Commission and state public utility commissions to set prices for mandatory network access under the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The authors analyze the Supreme Court’s 1996 decision in United States v. Winstar Corp. and argue that the reasoning employed by seven Justices in that case comports not only with earlier decisions of the Court construing the regulatory contract with public utilities, but also with the contemporary economic analysis of why the regulatory contract is essential and efficient. Sidak and Spulber explain how “transition bonds” may solve the stranded cost conundrum in the telecommunications and electric power industries by permitting the securitization of stranded costs in a manner that restores investors’ faith in the state’s ability to make credible commitments. Finally, the authors examine the significance of the Eighth Circuit’s 1997 decision in Iowa Utilities Board v. FCC for the debate over deregulatory takings and breach of the regulatory contract.