Seldom has a statewide ballot measure been so roundly and soundly condemned as California’s Prop. 16, which will come before state voters on June 8, 2010. From the Los Angeles Times to The Sacramento Bee, virtually every California newspaper is condemning Prop. 16 before the campaign for this ballot measure has even begun.
This measure was solely designed and financed by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). The largest combined electric and natural gas utility in the country has already spent $3.5 million to collect enough signatures to qualify this initiative for the June ballot. It has since authorized another $3 million to promote it, and may spend up to $25 or even $30 million to pass the measure while simultaneously seeking more than $1 billion in rate increases from its customers.
PG&E claims the measure is simply about giving the public a voice when local governments — including existing municipal utilities — seek to finance new power related infrastructure. It was originally entitled the “Taxpayer Right to Vote Act,” a clever way to market this ballot measure in these times of anti-tax sentiment and fears about the economy. That Orwellian title caught the attention of Attorney General Jerry Brown, who renamed the measure with the obtuse — yet more accurate — title” “New Two-Thirds Requirement for Local Public Electricity Providers Act.”
In a nutshell, this ballot measure requires two-thirds of voters of any local county or city to approve the financing of any new power plant developed by these local governments. It is a two-thirds requirmenent for lawmakers to pass a state budget that has led to politial gridlock in Sacramento. Evidence of this gridlock comes in the reality of today’s $20 billion state budget deficit, thanks to a minority of lawmakers. Placing this ballot meaure into the State Constitution could be foolhardy — especially if one cares about fostering the new green economy being touted by everyone from U.S. President Barrack Obama to state governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Former California Energy Commissioner John Geesman has been particularly outspoken in his oppostion to Prop. 16, with his blog noting that nine state legislators, led by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, are equally outraged that PG&E would so subvert the initiative process to benefit only itself and two other companies — Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric. (So far, neither of these two other investor-owned utilities has signaled whether they will help promote Prop. 16.) Geesman is urging concerned citizens to spread the word about this perceived abuse of California’s initiative process.
The initiative process was originally designed by the so-called Progressives as a means to hear “the voice of the people” since the California Legislature at that time was in the tight grip of powerful railroads, which controlled the Democratic Party. Progressives were Republican reformers and Hiram Johnson was their leader. In 1911, they successfully amended the State Constitution, placing California among the leaders with this new form of direct democracy, which has since spread to some 24 states.
But as the Fresno Bee reports, PG&E is pumping millions of ratepayer dollars into a ballot measure that would cripple local governments from developing new renewable energy systems, actually harming the state’s ability to meet AB 32 carbon emission reduction targets. This is a bit ironic, given that PG&E allegedly left the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the grounds that it disagreed with the Chamber’s lobbying efforts to kill federal climate change legislation. Some people have gone so far as to credit PG&E with the passage of AB 32.
Prop. 16 would not only severely impact the ability of the state to meet our collective carbon reduction requirements, but would create chaos at the local government level, and most likely plunge the state into a downward spiral of fiscal irresponsibility, harming a variety of public services related to the provision of energy that are all critical to the economy.
This June, it will be up to voters to decide if they want to be the ones deciding whether their local governments should create jobs in their own communities while providing electricity — the lifeblood of modern civilization — or if that job should stay with our elected local officials.