Walters: California’s income-based utility charge saga began with misuse of the state budget process

A year ago, California’s three big investor-owned electric power utilities – Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric – proposed new fixed charges on their residential customers that would vary by income.

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Households making less than $69,000 a year would pay $20 to $34 a month, while those earning $69,000 to $180,000 would be charged $51 to $73. The charge would be $85 to $128 on customers with incomes over $180,000.

Fixed utility charges separate from usage volume are nothing new. They offset costs for utility companies to maintain the power grid. However, basing utility charges on customer incomes would be a new step that touched off a spirited ideological debate that spread beyond the state’s borders.

It drew fire from those on the right because of its class-based underpinnings but also from those on the left who said even small charges would put more stress on low-income families struggling to pay rent and utility bills.

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Recently, the California Public Utilities Commission offered a less contentious proposal: a flat $24.15 per month fixed charge for most customers, lower $6 or $12 charges for low-income households, and lower overall rates tied to usage.

By downplaying the income redistribution aspects and promising lower overall bills for most ratepayers, the PUC has quieted some, but not all, criticism.

Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin of Thousand Oaks is leading a group of Democratic legislators who think the proposal is still too onerous and back a different proposal, Assembly Bill 1999, that would cap the fixed charge at $10 a month for most customers and $5 for low-income families. Irwin complained in a social media post that the PUC is “completely out of touch.”

The merits of the PUC’s plan notwithstanding, the issue is also a classic example of how the annual budget process is misused to enact major policy changes without fully airing their impacts.

A year ago, California’s three big investor-owned electric power utilities – Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric – proposed new fixed charges on their residential customers that would vary by income.

Households making less than $69,000 a year would pay $20 to $34 a month, while those earning $69,000 to $180,000 would be charged $51 to $73. The charge would be $85 to $128 on customers with incomes over $180,000.

Fixed utility charges separate from usage volume are nothing new. They offset costs for utility companies to maintain the power grid. However, basing utility charges on customer incomes would be a new step that touched off a spirited ideological debate that spread beyond the state’s borders.

It drew fire from those on the right because of its class-based underpinnings but also from those on the left who said even small charges would put more stress on low-income families struggling to pay rent and utility bills.

Recently, the California Public Utilities Commission offered a less contentious proposal: a flat $24.15 per month fixed charge for most customers, lower $6 or $12 charges for low-income households, and lower overall rates tied to usage.

By downplaying the income redistribution aspects and promising lower overall bills for most ratepayers, the PUC has quieted some, but not all, criticism.

Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin of Thousand Oaks is leading a group of Democratic legislators who think the proposal is still too onerous and back a different proposal, Assembly Bill 1999, that would cap the fixed charge at $10 a month for most customers and $5 for low-income families. Irwin complained in a social media post that the PUC is “completely out of touch.”

The merits of the PUC’s plan notwithstanding, the issue is also a classic example of how the annual budget process is misused to enact major policy changes without fully airing their impacts.

A year ago, California’s three big investor-owned electric power utilities – Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric – proposed new fixed charges on their residential customers that would vary by income.

Households making less than $69,000 a year would pay $20 to $34 a month, while those earning $69,000 to $180,000 would be charged $51 to $73. The charge would be $85 to $128 on customers with incomes over $180,000.

Fixed utility charges separate from usage volume are nothing new. They offset costs for utility companies to maintain the power grid. However, basing utility charges on customer incomes would be a new step that touched off a spirited ideological debate that spread beyond the state’s borders.

It drew fire from those on the right because of its class-based underpinnings but also from those on the left who said even small charges would put more stress on low-income families struggling to pay rent and utility bills.

Recently, the California Public Utilities Commission offered a less contentious proposal: a flat $24.15 per month fixed charge for most customers, lower $6 or $12 charges for low-income households, and lower overall rates tied to usage.

By downplaying the income redistribution aspects and promising lower overall bills for most ratepayers, the PUC has quieted some, but not all, criticism.

Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin of Thousand Oaks is leading a group of Democratic legislators who think the proposal is still too onerous and back a different proposal, Assembly Bill 1999, that would cap the fixed charge at $10 a month for most customers and $5 for low-income families. Irwin complained in a social media post that the PUC is “completely out of touch.”

The merits of the PUC’s plan notwithstanding, the issue is also a classic example of how the annual budget process is misused to enact major policy changes without fully airing their impacts.

Click here to read the full article in CalMatters

Comments

  1. Really??? says

    Just another pile from the Socialist Radicals.

    Another reason for producers to sell and leave this sink hole of a state.

    Geezzzzzzzz

  2. What I’m wondering is, how does PG&E or the PUC have any right to know what any individual’s income is? This seems a violation of California’s privacy rights, and tax returns are supposed to be privileged — any old corporation cannot just ask for a copy. So what are they going to do to see if people are lying about their income level?

  3. Rico Lagattuta says

    Fast food chains are meeting in closed door sessions to evaluate charging their menu items based on customer income. One of the burger franchises suggested a $2 charge for a double patty with cheese, lettuce, tomato and bread for income earners who’s yearly income is under $60,000 and $25.00 for family incomes between $60,000 and $150,000 with a sur charge for the bread, lettuce, tomato and mustard. Absurd? So is the utility income-based fee charge.

  4. Wake up demwits and stop voting for these GARBAGE POLITICIANS….Ever wonder why that when you lie to the government its a felony but when the government lies to you ITS POLITICS???VOTE THESE SCUMBAGS OUT IN NOVEMBER…THEY ARE ALL HAMAS

  5. PG&E just raised their rates, and this is just another attempt to do it again.

  6. Jack Weir says

    Unless I’m not remembering correctly, didn’t our state government pass a law requiring public utilities to propose an income- based monthly charge?
    Also, since much of the forest and woodlands that burned are the responsibility of state government to maintain, why soak the utilities when their equipment starts fires? It didn’ used to be this way before the Socialists took control in Kalifornia .

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