Volunteers Travel to Sacramento to Protect The People
Sacramento–Fearing an eleventh-hour backroom deal to bail out Southern California Edison, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) has established a “war room” in a hotel near the State Capitol to coordinate a volunteer-based lobbying effort during the final three weeks of the legislative session. The volunteers will counter the massive lobbying juggernaut that has descended upon the Capitol to force ratepayers to pick up the tab for Edison‘s deregulation losses, the non-profit citizen group said.
“This is the time of maximum peril for the public,” said Harvey Rosenfield, FTCR president. “Deregulation itself, and a lot of other bad laws, got ramrodded through the Legislature in the final weeks of session, when the rules are waived, hearings are held at midnight, lobbyists are crawling out of the woodwork, and deals are cut in backrooms. The best way to protect the people of California against shenanigans is to get them up here and let lawmakers know they’re watching.”
Hotel War Room Will Coordinate Influx of Volunteers
FTCR, a fierce critic of deregulation and a proposed Edison bailout, said that the volunteer effort would be led by its acclaimed Oaks Project, composed of dedicated volunteers who agree to spend 15 hours per month on citizen campaigns. Oaks volunteers helped get the 1998 anti-bailout initiative Prop. 9 on the ballot in record time; most recently, they placed five conflict of interest initiatives on five city ballots and campaigned for their passage; all five won. The Oaks will be supplemented by recruits from the tens of thousands of Californians that have signed up with FTCR through the internet and direct mail campaigns.
The volunteers will contact and meet directly with lawmakers seeking commitments to protect the public against the bailout. Volunteers will wear distinctive yellow armbands imprinted with the words “Bailout Watchdog.”
The volunteers will report back to the War Room, a suite located at the Sheraton Hotel on “J” Street. There, FTCR staff will coordinate the information supplied by volunteers and keep a running scorecard of each legislator’s position on wall maps. The volunteers will then transmit this information back to the voters and news media in legislative districts through talk radio, media calls and email alerts.
The group will hold daily briefings for the news media, and FTCR’s “Bailout Watch” will be published directly from the War Room. The group has also established a “Bailout Hotline” for voters at 310-392-0522 ext. 8, which will also be updated on a regular basis.
Organizers expect a growing presence in Sacramento over the next three weeks. “This is a last minute effort, and asking people to leave their jobs for a day or two is a big sacrifice, but we think the opportunity to make democracy work over the next few weeks is worth it,” said Carmen Balber, Director of the Oaks Project.
Bailouts, Windfall Tax, PUC Authority Are Key
The Edison bailout, estimated at $4.2 billion with interest, would be followed with similar deals for San Diego Gas & Electric and PG&E (already in bankruptcy). The SDG&E bailout proposal, which has received scant attention, would allow SDG&E to retain hundreds of millions of dollars from consumer overcharges. The cost of all three bailouts to ratepayers: $20 billion. This would be the second bailout for the utilities in five years. As drafted by the utilities, AB 1890, the deregulation law, forced ratepayers to pay $20 billion to pay off the utilities’ pre-1996 bad debts, freezing rates to do so. (Ironically, that freeze prevented the utilities from passing through the higher costs of power last year).
The bailout bill passed by the Senate place the burden of a bailout on big business, but Assembly leadership wants a full ratepayer bailout. It is expected to pass a version of the Senate bill so that the issue can be sent to a “conference committee,” where six lawmakers will determine the final version.
In addition to the bailout, Douglas Heller, FTCR’s point person on the deregulation crisis, said the volunteers would focus lawmakers on two other critical matters: imposing a windfall profits tax on the energy wholesalers (SB 1xx, Soto), and legislation preserving the state Public Utilities Commission‘s constitutional authority to review purchases of power by state officials (SB 18 xx, Burton).
“Power companies and government agencies must be held accountable. Citizen volunteers will provide the countervailing force in Sacramento to stop a bailout and protect ratepayers and taxpayers from the dominant special interests,” said Heller.