Features

Possible referendum would threaten bonds for power buys

The Associated Press
Wednesday May 09, 2001

SACRAMENTO — Despite dodging Republican opposition to $13.4 billion in bonds for power buys, Democratic lawmakers have opened the potential for a referendum and delays in repaying the state treasury. 

The state Assembly approved the bond measure Monday to send it to the Senate, but not by the two-thirds majority needed for the bill to take effect immediately and to shield it from a referendum. 

The Senate is scheduled to debate the bill Wednesday morning. 

But now, at least one consumer group is considering an attempt to gather the more than 400,000 signatures needed to put the measure to a public vote. 

“We see this as a black hole and we are analyzing whether it makes sense to permit the state to spend taxpayers’ money in this way, said Harvey Rosenfield, head of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. 

Meanwhile, State Treasurer Phil Angelides said Tuesday that the state’s chances of securing a $4.1 billion interim loan to help pay for power purchases have vanished. Angelides said the loan from three major banks was contingent on the state’s final authorizing of the bonds by Tuesday. 

“This week we will be reviewing what, if any, steps can be taken to stabilize the state’s fiscal condition in the short-term,” Angelides said in a written statement. 

Rosenfield and other consumer groups, angered by the rate increases, already have promised a revolt at the polls in 2002 by putting an initiative on the ballot that would roll back rate hikes if successful. That initiative would share the November ballot with Davis, who will be up for re-election. 

Now, however, Rosenfield said he thinks a referendum, which would put the bond issue itself on the ballot, could be more effective. 

Although costly and time-consuming to get on the ballot, a referendum would stop the legislation once the signatures were turned into the state and validated. 

Democrats unsuccessfully tried to pass the bond legislation Monday by the two-thirds majority needed to allow it to take effect immediately, which would also prevent the opportunity for opponents to try to take it to a public vote. 

The Assembly then passed the bill with a 49-29 vote, a plain majority that meant the law won’t go into effect for 90 days after the end of the special session. That also gave opponents 90 days in which they could organize and gather the valid signatures of 419,260 registered voters to challenge the measure. 

A referendum, unlike an initiative, asks voters whether an existing law should be kept on the books. The law is then put on hold pending the outcome of the election. 

If opponents successfully gather the signatures, the referendum could be on the March or November ballot, or the governor can call a special election earlier. 

Either way, the measure would not go into effect until long after officials say the state will run out of dollars to pay for services. 

But Joseph Fichera, Gov. Gray Davis’ financial adviser, said Davis is confident the measure will go forward. 

“He thinks he’s put forward something that’s fair and reasonable and doesn’t create an outcry,” Fichera said. 

In March 2000, voters repealed a law allowing accident victims to file bad-faith lawsuits against the at-fault parties’ insurers. 

Voters also upheld a law that approving 11 tribal-state gambling compacts, with much stricter limits, that were reached in 1998 and provides procedures for approving future compacts.