Gov. Gray Davis on Thursday formally summoned legislators back to the Capitol on Oct. 9 – one week later than expected – to devise a plan to put Southern California Edison back into the power-buying business.
State Treasurer Phil Angelides, meanwhile, continued to press his case for quick action by the state Public Utilities Commission to clear the way for a $12.5 billion bond issue that would repay the state for money it has spent purchasing electricity this year.
Ever since the Legislature adjourned two weeks ago without adopting a plan to save the struggling utility from bankruptcy, the Democratic governor has promised to force lawmakers to return.
Although Davis initially said he would call the special session about two weeks after the Legislature adjourned, he instead opted for a later date. The delay means lawmakers will convene during Davis’ most intense bill-signing period of the year.
So far, negotiations between his administration and lawmakers have not yielded consensus on a plan to deal with Edison‘s $3.9 billion debt.
Besides, many legislators are now out of town.
“We’ve had productive talks,” said Davis spokesman Roger Salazar. “All parties agreed another week will help the process.”
For months, the governor has advocated a rescue plan that would make Edison creditworthy again and remove the state from the power-buying business.
The governor’s proclamation calling for the third special session of the year is narrowly focused, and instructs lawmakers to consider only legislation “affecting the operation, maintenance, finances and financial viability of investor-owned utilities” that serve California residents.
Although the governor can call a special session, he cannot dictate how long each house meets or when lawmakers adjourn.
Davis’ decision, which starts the special session in the last week that he can sign or veto hundreds of bills passed by the Legislature, drew criticism from the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.
Executive Director Jamie Court said Davis clearly is trying to blackmail lawmakers into supporting a rescue plan. “The governor has basically put up a ‘for sale’ sign on every bill not signed by Oct. 9,” Court said. “It’s an abuse of power.”
Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Marina del Rey, has been meeting with members of Davis’ staff to discuss certain issues that remain sticking points. One element is whether Edison‘s electricity customers should be allowed to choose an alternate power provider.
“One of the real difficulties the governor’s office faces is that the public’s not supportive,” she said. A Field Poll released earlier this week found adults statewide oppose Davis’ proposal to use state-backed bonds to prevent Edison from slipping into bankruptcy, 66 percent to 23 percent.
Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, said she is not participating in negotiations because she’s enthusiastic about saving Edison from bankruptcy; rather, she’s concerned the state’s finances will deteriorate if it remains a power buyer indefinitely.
“We are not trying to sell this plan,” she said. “We are simply a drafting committee to see if there’s any proposal that is acceptable before the whole thing truly falls apart.”
Angelides, who held a morning news conference, also said he’s concerned about the state’s fiscal health. Because the PUC has not yet taken two actions that set aside a portion of electricity rates for the state, he said, the $12.5 billion bond sale will be put off until at least the beginning of 2002. Commission action will certainly be challenged in court, he said.
If the sale is delayed past the beginning of the next fiscal year July 1, he said, the state will face a budget meltdown requiring an 18 percent cut in non-education spending. The shortfall of $9.3 billion could rise, he said, forcing drastic cutbacks in services.
“People do not see the freight train of fiscal chaos coming,” he said.