California’s income-based utility charge saga began with misuse of the state budget process – Orange County Register

A year ago, California’s three big electric utilities — Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric — proposed new flat rates for their residential customers that would vary based on income.

Households earning less than $69,000 per year would pay between $20 and $34 per month, while those earning between $69,000 and $180,000 would be charged between $51 and $73. The fee would be $85 to $128 for customers with incomes above $180,000.

Fixed utility charges separate from volume of usage are not new. They offset the costs incurred by utility companies to maintain the electricity grid. However, basing utility rates on customer income would be a new step that would spark a heated ideological debate that would extend beyond state lines.

It drew criticism from those on the right because of its class underpinnings, but also from those on the left who said even minimal charges would put more pressure on low-income families struggling to pay their rent and their utility bills.

Recently, the California Public Utilities Commission proposed a less controversial proposal: a fixed flat fee of $24.15 per month for most customers, lower fees of $6 or $12 for low-income households, and blanket rates lower usage-related.

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

Rep. Jacqui Irwin of Thousand Oaks leads a group of Democratic lawmakers who think the proposal is still too expensive and support a different proposal, the 1999 Assembly bill, which would cap flat fees at $10 a month for most customers and $5 for low-income people. families. Irwin complained in a social media post that the PUC was “completely out of touch.”

Despite the merits of the PUC plan, this issue also serves as a classic example of how the annual budget process is misused to enact major policy changes without fully disclosing their impacts.

The 2022 legislation that authorized the CPUC to enact fixed income-based fees was an omnibus energy-related measure written as a “follow-on bill” for the state budget – measures that are very long, very complicated and receive only superficial attention as they evolve. the legislative process at breakneck speed.

The possibility of an income-based utility fee was briefly mentioned in the first version of the measure, Assembly Bill 205, one of dozens of bills proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom submitted with the budget in January of the same year.

As with other bills, it came before the Assembly in a pro forma vote a few weeks later, then sat in the Senate for the next four months.

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