Last updated: September 06. 2013 4:18PM - 17 Views

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DOUG WHITEMAN

Associated Press

COLUMBUS — The state’s consumer advocate for Ohio utility customers is leaving to take a job with a nonprofit utility think tank after criticizing state budget cuts that are reducing funding for her office by more than half.

Janine Migden-Ostrander announced Wednesday that she would step down as Ohio Consumers’ Counsel effective Oct. 15 to become principal consultant for the Regulatory Assistance Project, based in Montpelier, Vt.

“I am leaving because I felt that the office could benefit from new leadership that can hopefully get the budget restored in the future,” Migden-Ostrander told The Associated Press.

She said she found it very disappointing that annual funding for her office was dropping from $8.5 million to $4.1 million under the two-year budget signed this summer by Gov. John Kasich. The loss of state money has prompted the agency to eliminate more than 30 jobs, reduce its involvement in cases before regulators and trim its outreach and educational efforts.

Migden-Ostrander had criticized the budget cuts as senseless, arguing that her office saved Ohioans much more than it cost them. She said she asked to meet with the governor and House Speaker William Batchelder during the budget process but they never responded.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said the governor wishes Migden-Ostrander well, and he would not comment further.

Batchelder told reporters he believed someone from his office met with her during budget negotiations.

Quitting was difficult but a decision she made entirely on her own, Migden-Ostrander said.

She was appointed in April 2004 as the third person to head the independent consumers’ counsel office, created in 1976 following a national energy crisis. It is supported by a fee on electric, gas, water and phone companies — amounting to about $1 a year per household. In past years the agency has participated in about 200 cases annually, often defending consumers against rate hikes.

The office on Wednesday credited Migden-Ostrander with helping utility customers save $8 billion during her tenure.

She will be succeeded, on an interim basis, by consumers’ counsel deputy and legal director Bruce J. Weston while the office’s governing board searches for a permanent replacement.

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