ON TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 3, THREE WEEKS AFTER I wrote this column, California voters narrowly defeated Proposition 9. In case you missed it, that was the ballot initiative that would have cut off funding for nuclear power in California through securitization or any other fancy financing for stranded costs. A "yes" vote would have told utilities, in effect, to "take these bonds and shove it."
But the voters said "no," however, and I'll tell you why - even before the first ballot was cast.
In the end, Prop 9 failed for the same reason that George McGovern lost to Richard Nixon in 1972. The moment had come and gone. As McGovern discovered, the anti-war passions of 1968 could not be rekindled four years later to spark a crusade and a run for President. The war, in fact, was already over. We just didn't know it yet. Today, as then, crusades have fallen out of fashion. Are utilities getting a free ride? Maybe, but who believes that's more important than risking chaos in bond markets?
ON OCT. 13 I INTERVIEWED HARRY SNYDER, of Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports magazine and a prime mover behind Proposition 9. Snyder, the senior advocate for the West Coast office of Consumers Union, sounded a bit like I imagine I did back in 1972. As we talked, it occurred to me that he might be living in the past. He hasn't yet figured out that the anti-nuclear and anti-business fervor of the late 70's and early 80's has faded too far too fast for voters to risk putting state or local governments into default, just because they might feel miffed at not being consulted when California legislators bowed to industry pressure and allowed recovery of stranded costs in Assembly Bill 1890, the state's primary electric restructuring statute.