Who's Broke in California? Not Powerful Interests

Much has been made of California's $20 billion deficit the state's inability to close it.  But there's no limit to the extent that powerful interests will attempt to sway the public to meet their needs through the voting process.  

For such groups, money is no obstacle to making their case.

Take Proposition 16, officially called The Taxpayers Right to Vote Act, which is on the June 8th ballot. The name is bit bizarre to begin with, since most of us thought we already had the right to vote. The title notwithstanding, this ballot initiative would require cities with municipally-owned utilities to obtain a two-thirds vote of approval from the voters before purchasing renewable energy.  

If the initiative passes, about 70 municipally-owned utilities in California will be forced to call public votes before purchasing renewable energy.  No such votes are required when a city buys water, enters into an agreement with a garbage collection company, or purchases new firefighting equipment. But the purchase of renewable energy is another matter, particularly if it threatens the profits of the state's largest energy provider.  

The force behind Proposition 16 is every bit as important as its content.  Proposition 16 has been promoted almost single handedly by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), the largest public utility in the state that serves 15 million customers in northern and central California. PG&E spent more than $3 million to acquire the necessary number of signatures to qualify the initiative for the ballot.  Since then, the company has spent more than $30 million on its campaign to persuade the electorate to pass the initiative. The opposition, a handful of public interest and consumer groups, has spent less than $100,000. Clearly, passage of this proposition would make life considerably easier for a utility that thrives on monopoly.

PG&E isn't the only company to use its muscle to influence the vote. Proposition 17, entitled the Continuous Coverage Auto Discount Act, was placed on the ballot through the efforts of Mercury General Insurance.  

Like PG&E, this company spent more than $3 million securing signatures and has thus far committed another $5 million to securing voter approval which would give it the opportunity to hike rates of customers who temporarily cease the purchase of automobile insurance--a practice was outlawed in another initiative 20 years ago.

The bottom line is this: In politics, everyone has the same vote, but not all interests have the same abilities to persuade those who vote.

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