Protect taxpayers from power grabs-Vote Yes on Prop. 16
By Willie L. Brown, Jr.
Former Speaker of the California State Assembly and Mayor of San Francisco
California’s taxpayers deserve transparency when it comes to their money, especially given the current state of California’s economy. The state has racked up $145 billion in debt, and this year’s budget deficit of $20 billion threatens cuts to critical services and jobs on the state, county and local levels. Decisions to take on additional debt or use taxpayer money to fund big programs-such as a government takeover of electricity service-need voter input. That’s why we need to vote yes on Proposition 16 on June 8.
Currently, California law does not require voter approval if local governments want to use public money to develop the complex systems necessary to deliver electric service. Proposition 16 corrects this omission, giving voters a say in the process. Local leaders who want to take on public debt or spend public money to start up a municipal retail electricity business must get a two-thirds majority vote-the same standard as hundreds of other special tax or bond situations. Ironically, California law does require a two-thirds majority vote to sell a municipal utility. Shouldn’t we use the same standard to start a utility that we use to end one?
As a former mayor of San Francisco, I can tell you from firsthand experience that it is critical to involve the voters in big decisions like funding large municipal utility programs. Voters are not only benefiting from such programs by receiving utility services, but they’re also paying for the development of the business itself. And if a municipal utility fails, it is the voters who are on the hook for a bailout.
After years of benefiting from the input of the people during my time as mayor, I can also tell you that California’s voters know a good plan when they see one. They can discern between a well-constructed plan that will work and one that is not well formed or that takes unnecessary risks with their money. And local leaders need the community’s input. Large public programs are always far more visionary-and far more expensive-than expected. Since the voters are paying for it, it makes much more sense to get their approval before the money is spent than to make the decision blindly and have a mess on your hands that the taxpayer has to fix if it fails.
Proposition 16 promotes transparency and ensures that the people have a voice when it comes to how public money is spent. It requires that a local government that wants to run the complicated delivery system necessary to provide electricity must go to the voters to lay out its case and prove it can build a system that works. Then voters can either give their permission to spend their tax dollars or incur additional public debt, or not.
Proposition 16 doesn’t decide on public power or no public power-it just makes sure that the question is in the hands of the voters, where it belongs. Please join me and vote YES on Prop 16 on the June ballot.