Monday, April 26, 2010

A Bad Act

TV political commercials have been downright boring lately. How many
times can you watch GOP gubernatorial candidates Meg Whitman and
Steve Poinzer endlessly bash each other for being “li-ber-al,”
rolling the word off their tongues as you would “ped-o-phile” or

Recently, however, Proposition 16 backers have come thundering across
the vast wasteland, reaching into their deep pockets to bombard the
airways on behalf of their Taxpayers Right to Vote Act.

Before I sorted through the messy details of this initiative, I was
curious: Don’t taxpayers already have the right to vote? Is somebody
trying to take that right away from us? Has Glenn Beck been right all
this time?

But, no. Upon closer inspection it turns out that the Taxpayers Right
to Vote Act is the most misleading ballot title since the California
Marriage Protection Act of 2008 which in fact did nothing to protect
your marriage if you are gay.

Likewise, the Taxpayers Right to Vote Act takes away more than it

Written and funded to the tune of some $30 million by Pacific Gas and
Electric, Prop. 16 would require local governments to win the
approval of two-thirds of the voters before providing electricity to
residents through a local utility.

While PG&E concedes that many municipalities do hold elections to
decide if they should get involved in the power business, it is
demanding in this initiative that all citizens should be guaranteed a
say in all cases.

Sounds democratic, right? In theory, yes. In practice, PG&E
understands that getting two-thirds approval on anything this side of
motherhood is a steep mountain to climb and that requiring such a
mandate would have a chilling effect on public officials, who lack
the financial resources to face down a big bucks private utility.

The result: PG&E gets locked in as the provider and crushes any
future competition.

We have already seen how this plays out. In Sacramento in 2006 and
San Francisco in 2008, PG&E's deep pockets helped defeat
simple-majority ballot measures that would have allowed or expanded
municipal utilities, according to media in those cities.

John Geesman, who served on the California Energy Commission from
2002-2008, sees it this way:

“If passed, Proposition 16 will actually result in less voting than
occurs under existing law – at least that's the strategy PG&E's CEO,
Peter Darbee, recently boasted about to Wall Street investors,”
Gessman wrote in the Sacramento Bee.

“In Darbee's words, ‘the idea was to diminish, you know, rather than
year after year different communities coming in as this or that and
putting this up for vote and us having to spend millions and millions
of shareholder dollars to defend it repeatedly, we thought that this
was a way that we could sort of diminish that.’”

Aha, I see. So the Taxpayers Right to Vote act is actually an attempt
to prevent voting. Worse, it’s an exploitation of the initiative
process by a greedy special interest group.

PG&E isn’t the only one playing games.

Mercury Insurance is sponsoring Prop. 17, which would allow auto
insurance companies to base their prices in part on a driver’s
history of coverage.
What that means is that state law would be revised to allow insurers
to attract new customers with discounts, as long as the drivers have
been insured for most of the previous five years.

Sounds good, right? But critics say such a discount could mean higher
rates for drivers who were not previously insured even if it was
because they didn’t own a car, had a brief lapse in coverage or were
away at college or in the military (although troops stationed
overseas would be protected).

It would also gut Prop. 103 approved in 1988 which established a
connection between policy price and risk.

I’m guessing two things would happen if this passed. (1) Mercury and
other insurers would make a lot more money boosting rates for the
previously uninsured then they would spend offering discounts and (2)
the resulting higher prices would result in more uninsured drivers.
Then everyone’s rates would rise.

Stay tuned: In November, we get to vote on the "Regulate, Control and
Tax Cannabis Act of 2010" which Los Angeles County District Attorney
Steve Cooley says " ...will not regulate, not control nor effectively
tax marijuana in California."

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