CPUC Elections Bill Moves Along

By Loretta Macktal, Executive Assistant to the Vice President, Government Relations

Capitol Update, June 13, 2003 Share this on FacebookTweet thisEmail this to a friend

A proposed constitutional amendment making the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) an elected body passed the Senate Constitutional Amendments Committee on Wednesday, June 11.

SCA 6 (Jim Battin, R-La Quinta) provides for seven elected commissioners, elected by district for 4-year terms at gubernatorial elections.

If approved by the Legislature, SCA 6 would appear on the March, 2004 ballot. If approved by the voters, the first elected commissioners would assume office on or after January 1, 2007.

The proposed constitutional amendment would politicize the CPUC and subject the one-hundred-year-old-plus institution to the rough and tumble of California's electoral process. Sound-bites and 30-second television advertising would become the means by which commissioners are elected, and once in office, commissioners would be forced to divide their time between Commission business and running for re-election. And then there is all the time they would be spending raising money for their re-election campaigns. The life of a commissioner under SCA 6 would be far different from the current relatively low-key and relatively insulated environment at the CPUC headquarters on Van Ness Avenue.

Moreover, the requirement that members be elected by district would create a situation in which commissioners would be tempted to put the narrow, often parochial views of the region they represent ahead of the interest of ratepayers across the state. An example of how this might work is the dispute last year at the CPUC over the allocation of Department of Water Resources power contracts to the state's three investor-owned electric utilities, Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas and Electric. The three utilities had significantly different views as to how the contracts should be allocated, based on their own particular needs. The present Commission, with members serving at-large, was able to balance the needs of the three utilities. The delicate balancing act shown by the Commission will be much more difficult to accomplish with Commissioners elected by district.

CMTA hasn't always agreed with the CPUC in the past and won't in the future but that's not the standard by which to judge a regulatory body. SCA 6 won't improve the Commission; it would make it decidedly worse.
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