Burton: No Special Session Necessary for Energy Issues

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The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO: Consumer groups and the Senate’s top Democrat said Monday there’s no need for an extra legislative attempt to save beleaguered Southern California Edison from bankruptcy.

Although the Assembly voted to let Edison sell $2.9 billion in bonds to pay off part of its $3.9 billion debt, Senate Leader John Burton said he didn’t bring it up for a vote in his house as the Legislature prepared to adjourn because not enough senators would vote for it.

Gov. Gray Davis promptly announced he would call the year’s third extraordinary legislative session so the Legislature could again attempt to craft a rescue plan for Edison.

“There’s no reason to come back and stay through a third, fourth, fifth or sixth special session unless there’s a deal,” Burton said Monday. “People aren’t going to vote for something that they think is morally wrong and politically dangerous for them.”

Several senators tried to write a less-generous version of the Assembly plan, but Edison officials said that wouldn’t help them, said Burton, a San Francisco Democrat. “Members felt that they didn’t want to vote for a bill that helped Edison that Edison didn’t want.”

The utility amassed $3.9 billion in debt from high wholesale prices last year. Without a state-backed rescue, the company says it will have no choice but to follow Pacific Gas and Electric Co. into bankruptcy. Davis announced in April that he had negotiated a plan with Edison to buy the utility’s transmission lines and let the company issue revenue bonds, backed by consumers, to pay its debts.

Lawmakers worked on several incarnations of the deal since then, but couldn’t reconcile the different versions that passed each house.

The third legislative session would deal exclusively with Edison, said Davis spokesman Steve Maviglio. Assembly and Senate leaders would set the date for the session to start.

An Edison-only session, Maviglio said, will force the Senate to focus on only that issue. “The bottom line is that it has to be legislation that gets the state out of the power business and gets Edison solvent.”

Because the Assembly didn’t adjourn the second extraordinary session on energy, the governor would have to call a third session to compel lawmakers to return to the capital.

If the governor does that, Burton says he’ll immediately adjourn it.
“I don’t know what the Legislature can do. Whatever we want to do, the Edison people say it isn’t enough. It isn’t enough. They want a flat bailout,” Burton said.

The Assembly approved a drastically changed version of the Senate bill, adding $400 million to the utility’s bonding limit and including provisions to encourage renewable energy and limit cash transfers from the utility to the parent company.

“We sent a bill to the Senate, one to accomplish one of the objectives of the legislation, which is to put the utility back on its feet,” said Paul Hefner, spokesman for Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys. “I don’t know what more there is for us to do at this point.”

Edison officials declined to comment Monday. The company had opposed the Senate’s plan to let Edison sell $2.5 billion in bonds, saying that wouldn’t keep them from bankruptcy.

Consumer advocate Harvey Rosenfield said Edison has “cried wolf” to lawmakers five times since January, setting deadlines by which it said it would file for bankruptcy. “Now, of course, they said that they can wait until Oct. 15. I don’t think Edison has much credibility with the legislators at this point,” said Rosenfield, executive director of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

His organization has promised a ballot measure to overturn any legislation that helps the utility.

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