Too many questions to empower PUD

October 14, 2012 

Voters in Thurston County will decide in the next few weeks on Proposition No. 1, whether or not to turn over the distribution of electric power to the Thurston Public Utility District.

The Olympian editorial board advises against its passage. Voters should unequivocally vote no for the wide variety of reasons we have outlined on this page.

Approval of the proposition could have devastating, unintended consequences for Thurston County that will last for decades.

Taxpayers could be saddled, for example, with enormous long-term debt, and will almost certainly see an increase in property taxes. There is no guarantee of lower, or even equal, electric rates to current Puget Sound Energy rates.

There is a long list of unanswered questions that includes whether it is even legally possible for the TPUD to proceed with scenarios in its preliminary study. The expense of answering these questions, or fighting them in court, has the potential to bury a cash-poor small water utility. The PUD’s study doesn’t bother to address any legal issues.

There are wider questions, too, about whether approving the proposition would adversely shift property taxes, with serious negative impacts on the county’s junior taxing entities, such as fire districts. PSE is Thurston County’s second largest property taxpayer, so this is a critical uncertainty.

Neither the PUD nor the Thurston Public Power Initiative that put the proposition on this fall’s ballot have given voters enough information to warrant the trust they are seeking from voters.

There is no plan, and the current PUD commissioners do not have the expertise to jump from a small water utility to running a complex, major electrical company.

Competent leadership would have done its homework before running a campaign sullied with rhetoric. The TPPI leadership appears motivated by ideological principles (corporate profits are bad) rather than based on facts supporting the best interests of Thurston County taxpayers.

When asked what problem the ballot measure is trying to solve, TPPI chairman John Pearce started by telling the editorial board that Puget Sound Energy is taking profits and paying its executives high salaries.

Pearce later added that PSE rates are high and that it didn’t perform well during last winter’s historic snow and ice storm. But there is no assurance that electric rates would be lower under the PUD or that it could provide any better service during extreme conditions.

There are simply too many unknowns that will have financial and legal sequences for generations to come.

For these reasons, and the others presented on this page, we recommend rejecting Proposition 1.

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