Posted by: Lisa Pampuch | April 27, 2010

Shameful, deceptive Prop 16 is wrong for California

Constitution — The  system  of  fundamental  principles  according  to  which  a  nation,  state,  corporation,  or  the  like,  is  governed. ~ American Heritage Dictionary

Representative democracy — A type of democracy in which the citizens delegate authority to elected representatives. ~ Dictionary.com

Majority  rule — A doctrine by which a numerical majority of an organized group holds the power to make decisions binding on all in the group. ~ American Heritage Dictionary

These three concepts are the main reasons that I’m voting “No” on Proposition 16.

In case you’ve been living under a rock and somehow missed the deceptive ads urging you to approve Prop 16, it asks “Should the California Constitution be amended to require two-thirds voter approval before local governments can start up or expand electric service?”

No, it most definitely should not be.

California’s Constitution ought to hold only the enduring principles that underpin this state’s government. It should not be amended to protect narrow business interests and codify a power grab, as Prop 16 attempts to do. A quick look at California’s Constitution shows that historically this has not been the case, thanks to this state’s much-abused initiative process; look at the mess that practice has created.

We live in a representative democracy, which means that voters empower elected representatives to make operational decisions like whether to start or expand a municipal electric service. Voters do this because making these kinds of decisions requires detailed knowledge of the issues at hand and the agency’s strengths and needs.

In democracies, a simple majority ought to decide the vast majority of issues. Otherwise, we suffer from a tyranny of the minority, which is not at all democratic.

We see the damage done by supermajority requirements in Sacramento’s annual budget battles after an ill-advised constitutional amendment required a supermajority to pass budgets and impose taxes.

We see the damage done by the mere threat of minority rule in the United States Senate where the filibuster means that minority hissy fits can derail legislation favored by a majority of Senators and Representatives.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that PG&E is willing to spend up to $35 million to convince a simple majority of Californians to approve Prop 16, which, if passed, would eliminate some of the utility’s most effective competition.

PG&E is so devoted to passing Prop 16, the Chronicle reports, that in February it “took the unusual step of telling its investors that funding for the campaign would affect the company’s 2010 profits, lowering them by 6 to 9 cents per share.”

Prop 16’s opposition, led by TURN, a utility reform advocacy group, had raised less than $16,000 in comparison to PG&E’s tens of millions of dollars as of February, according to the Chronicle.

PG&E wants to enact Prop 16 to protect it from competition from municipal utilities, which often provide more reliable electrical service at a better price than PG&E.

TURN reports that “At its highest residential tier, PG&E charges 47.39 cents for a kilowatt-hour. That’s more than … San Diego Gas & Electric, with a top tier of 20.2 cents; or the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, where the highest rate is 17.02 cents.”

Alameda Municipal Power, which serves the city of Alameda, reports that its service “is among the most reliable in the nation and well above the national average. Our customers experience fewer outages, and these outages are shorter, in comparison with other utilities.”

That’s typical of municipal electric companies, according to Rebecca Johnson’s 2006 “Municipal Electric Utilities — Analysis and Case Studies” white paper, which cites “lower electric prices by a national average of ten percent” and “superior operational and customer service” as two of several advantages that municipal power companies have over public electricity utilities like PG&E.

So why would voters amend the California Constitution to benefit PG&E and hurt themselves? There’s no good reason to do so.

Prop 16 is such a bad idea that a striking set of folks who are often at odds agree that you should defeat it: labor unions and chambers of commerce, environmentalists and farmers, LGBT groups and retired people.

PG&E’s misleading advertising campaign in support of this proposition tries to stoke and capitalize on anti-government sentiment to manipulate voters. PG&E is trying to buy protection for its business by purchasing a constitutional amendment for as much as $35 million dollars.

It’s shameful and deceptive. Prop 16 is bad for California, and it’s bad for democracy.

No on Prop 16.

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