Activists will not pursue ballot measure on state edison bailout

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Los Angeles Business Journal

Remember all that talk last year of an energy initiative on this November’s ballot? Well, it’s been quietly dropped.

As the state’s energy crisis deepened, Harvey Rosenfield (the man who placed Proposition 103, the auto insurance rollback measure, on the 1988 ballot) threatened to place an initiative on the ballot to repeal any rate hikes enacted as part of a rescue package for insolvent Southern California Edison. The initiative stirred so much concern among legislators that they even coined a term for any legislation they were considering that would need to stand up to the initiative test: “Harvey-proofing.”

But then came the Oct. 2 deal between the state Public Utilities Commission, headed by Gov. Gray Davis appointee Loretta Lynch, and Edison. The deal was designed to retire $ 3 billion of Edison‘s debt through a combination of continued high electricity rates and the elimination of shareholder dividends.

Since the deal was a settlement of a court case brought by Edison against the PUC and was approved in federal court, it was not subject to legislative action. Suddenly, it became much harder for Rosenfield’s group, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, to put something on the ballot that would not be declared invalid because it overturned a court decision.

“The PUC really tied the hands of the people of California with this secret deal with Edison,” said Doug Heller, consumer advocate with the FTCR.

The fact that the energy crisis is no longer on the front pages may have also played a part in the decision to put the measure on hold.

Also, the last time Rosenfield placed an energy measure on the ballot, back in 1998, it got clobbered as the utilities and other energy providers spent $ 40 million to defeat it.

But Heller said the initiative isn’t necessarily dead. “We would like the courts to declare that the PUC had no authority to make such a deal affecting rates without consulting the public. If such a finding is made, then we might reactivate the initiative,” Heller said.

Consumer Watchdog
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