Prospects for the Assembly-passed bill were dim in the Senate.
The state Senate adjourned for the year early today without reaching agreement on an effort to keep Southern California Edison out of bankruptcy, prompting Gov. Gray Davis to say he will call lawmakers back to try again in a special session within two weeks.
Negotiators, who struggled Friday to arrive at a plan that could win approval from both houses, conceded shortly before 1 a.m. today that they would not reach a deal before the session ended for the year.
“There just weren’t enough votes there,” said Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco.
Davis had pushed the Legislature for a deal that would help Edison repay its debt and stay out of bankruptcy court, in the process removing some of the state’s power-buying burden.
But the rescue plan remained mired in the state Senate, where it was shipped last week after receiving the bare minimum votes in the state Assembly.
“I am proud of the work done by the Assembly to get the state out of the business of buying electricity by restoring Edison to creditworthiness,” Davis said in a statement as the Senate adjourned. “Unfortunately, however, the Senate has not gotten the job done.”
He said Edison had assured him it would not seek bankruptcy before the special session convenes.
Burton responded with an angry, obscenity-laden tirade. “I resent the fact that the governor said we didn’t do our job,” he said. “He couldn’t hold the line on the (content of the) bill in the Assembly. We should have took it up and killed it and put this baby to death once and for all.”
The final, unproductive scramble to produce a compromise that could win enough votes was criticized by consumer groups opposed to any version of a state-sponsored “bailout.”
“They cannot make good policy under these conditions,” said Doug Heller of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. “With (several) hours left in the legislative year, there’s not even a copy of the bill available.”
The bill, SB 78xx, was written to let Edison sell $2.9 billion in bonds, backed by business ratepayers, to eliminate much of the company’s $3.9 billion debt from the energy crisis. It made Edison responsible for the remaining $1 billion.
The complicated measure also was structured to give the state a five-year option to purchase Edison‘s 12,580 miles of transmission lines; titles or easements to about 18,000 acres of watershed lands; and promises of power at discount rates from Edison‘s Sunrise plant southwest of Bakersfield in Kern County for 10 years.
But the bill had little chance in the Senate, where all Republicans opposed it and many Democrats considered it unfair to consumers.
“The version that the Assembly sent back is too high a price to pay for the California taxpayers,” Sen. Joe Dunn, D-Santa Ana, said Friday.
Senators said they had two options: vote on SB 78xx, which would likely fail, or amend their own version of a rescue plan into another bill.
Throughout the day, however, no one could agree on the details of a new plan.
“I’m not inclined” to vote for it, said Sen. Don Perata, D-Alameda.
“There’s a tremendous amount of anti-consumer sentiment for the bill, particularly among consumers in my district who believe this does a disservice to residents and small-business owners.”