SMUD, Other Utilities Seek To Kick PG&E-Backed Proposition 16 Off June Ballot
March 19th, 2010
A broad coalition of California's public utilities, including the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, sued Thursday to disqualify Proposition 16 from the June 8 ballot "for being false and misleading and for concealing its true nature and purpose from voters."
The lawsuit, filed in Sacramento Superior Court, contends the initiative is a secret attempt by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. "to lock in its monopoly in its existing territories."
PG&E has vowed to spend as much as $35 million to pass the measure, which would require publicly owned utility expansion plans to win a two-thirds vote of residents in the public utility's existing boundaries and in new areas to be served.
The lawsuit asks that Proposition 16 be thrown off the ballot because the petitions circulated to qualify it "misrepresented and concealed the initiative's true purpose and effect, and because (it) … is so permeated with misinformation that it prevents a reasonable voter from making informed choices" in violation of the U.S. Constitution's due process guarantee.
Called "The Taxpayers Right to Vote Act," the measure purports to impose the two-thirds voter requirement as a means to control taxes, borrowing, or spending by a public entity to underwrite electricity service, the suit says.
But, it says, voters already have direct control over local public entities, and electricity service is funded by rates, not taxes.
"As such, Proposition 16 has nothing to do with taxes, borrowing, or government spending, and does nothing to guarantee reasonable electric rates," the suit declares.
Instead, the initiative seeks the two-thirds requirement in both the area already served by the public utility and the area into which that provider would expand its service. Presently a simple majority is required.
"This double-locked protection effectively guarantees that PG&E will never again have to defend its rates and service from competition by a public provider whose rates and service are a better choice for customers," the suit says.
PG&E spokeswoman Robin Swanson said it is ironic that public utilities accuse the company of backdoor tactics when it is PG&E that is airing the issue so voters can make an informed decision.
"These entities and the politicians would rather go to the courts than go to the people," Swanson said. "Besides," she added, "their claims are baseless, and they have missed all the constitutional deadlines to get it off the ballot.
"This is a Keystone Kop approach to get the media to talk about their own ballot arguments," she said.