Rick, you da man.

Pat Ryan

RickmetsgerMy own senator (Rick Metsger, D-Welches) has been living dangerously lately. We in the senate district tend to see him as a cautious consensus builder who often works in a bipartisan way with our Republican representative. This of course is sensible, given the demographics of his electorate, but we partisans are often frustrated by this measured approach.

Today however, I can offer some unconditional support for our Rick as he's making the kind of run at PGE that desperately needs to happen. Along with a lot of other epople who are paying attention, I've been pissed off for years that the electric utility collects tax money from ratepayers and then pays 10% or less of funds collected to the government, pocketing the rest as straight profit.

When this came up in the Oregonian a couple of weeks back, I was left wondering just who in Salem was ever going to muster the spine to address this issue. In Steve Duin's column today, we finally get a glimpse and Metsger (along with rep. Vicki Walker, D-Eugene) is the Democrat that stepped up.

As noted in the column, it'll be fun to watch Ds and Rs alike justify opposition to this effort.

Rick, you da man.

Thanks to Tom Civiletti for the forward on this one

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    About time.

    It drives me nuts when the right uses the water bureau software billing problem or lack of PUC oversight as the reason why the city shouldn't buy PGE.

    According to Steve Duin, the PUC and its governing legislation have let Enron make off with $750 million dollars of our money since 1997 just with the little dodge of collecting taxes they never had any intention of paying.

    That's two orders of magnitude bigger than what the water bureau problem cost all by itself. (For the right wingers in the audience, that "two orders of magnitude" means "approximately one hundred times as much.")

    If we were to move on to include the price gouging so neatly engineered via the Enron-fabricated "energy crisis" (and that we are still paying for today) we could get into some really mind-boggling numbers.

    I hope this means that people are going to start understanding just how badly they've been had.

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    Remind me again why the City plan isn't a good idea?

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    As far as I'm concerned the city plan is a good idea.

    What's more, no other option I've heard yet is even a plausible contender to be a good idea. They just aren't close.

    1. Texas Pacific: just a plan to suck a billion dollars out of Oregon in the next few years and followed by yet another change in ownership. What holding company are you going to find for whom this isn't the case?

    2. The "State Plan": doesn't actually exist.

    3. Enron: been there, done that, got royally ripped off. Fool me once... and they no longer seem to want to keep PGE anyway.

    4. Devolving to a publicly traded company owned by the Enron creditors: that's where we were when PGE got bought by Enron. "Rinse and repeat" is not an answer.

    There exists exactly one plan that has any significant hope of protecting ratepayers or providing any stability and that's the city plan, which would do both. We have decent leadership in the city at this point who I think can be trusted to keep the best interests of the entire region in mind. They have promised to create a structure that would do that.

    The one specific reservation I've heard expressed by non-Portlanders fussing over the city option is that they are afraid those awful liberals in the city might do something like give rate relief to poor people or schools that as ratepayers outside the city they would then essentially be subsidizing. That strikes me as one of the most petty positions I've heard in a long time, but what's worse it's like missing the forest because you are fixated on a piece of bark on one of the trees that's slightly off-color. In the first place, the city has already said they'd look for regional control. But anyway, compare the rate relief the most flaming liberal in Portland would suggest for schools to the billions private investors would be looking to suck out of here and send somewhere more deserving, like Texas, and you will find they are not likely on the same planet, let alone in the same ballpark. That's like fussing over the quarter that homeless guy over there got from you while some other guy in a ten gallon hat is on a shopping spree with your platinum card.

    I think we should take this opportunity to set this up right for the forseeable future. This could be worth billions of dollars to customers of PGE in the fairly short term. That's Oregon taxpayers and businesses who will benefit.

    I was annoyed to see Martha Schrader bad-mouthing the city over this on the Tribune letter page not too long ago. It's all just Portland-phobia, there's no rationality in it. Martha, dammit, you didn't use to put political posturing above the public good. This is not a good time or place to start.

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    I'm not clear on why Martha opposed the plan, not having read the letter. Can you offer any additional info on that one?

    I've supported the PUD version forever, but since that seems to be politically impossible, the "city plan" seems like a resonable "second best" alternative.

  • dispossessed (unverified)



    "Political posturing" is not apparent to the casual observer (or me).

    That was a great post, doretta. But I do not agree. I saw my neighbor in North Portland break down in fears and tears over her water bill when it finally arrived, with increased rates and backlog of months when the billings were not sent out.

    No one helped her out. Just a poor old black woman who'd lived in her house for 40 years.

    Erik Sten never took ownership of that fiasco (still playing out). The Oregonian seemed to give him cover until after that year's election and not much scrutiny after. It was a violation of public trust, and an incompetent handling of fiduciary responsibility for which many bore direct impact.

    Putting him in charge of a new electric bureau adds insult to injury. If a city plan is a good plan, they should respect the tax- and rate-payers enough to respect those suspicions and resentments that are not borne of politics.

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)

    I'll be chatting some about PGE on Clackamas County Democrats Live, this evening [8pm, metro cable channel 11].

    As someone who likes Martha Schrader, her support of PGE disappoints me. I'd write something here about campaign finance reform, but I need to go take a shower.

    You're welcome, Pat.

  • Suzii (unverified)

    You know, any time someone, of any age, ethnicity or sex, who's run a household for 40 years is surprised that a water bill follows the delivery of water service, that surprises me.

    And anyone with 40 years' experience of paying water bills who says, "Hmmm, I haven't had a water bill for a few months; I guess that must mean it's free now and I can spend the water money on food or medicine or something," instead of, "Something is clearly wrong; I'd better stash this water bill money for when they get it fixed," well ...

    Does thinking like that make me a Republican?

  • dispossessed (unverified)

    Well, you know, you get old, you get sick, you're living on a fixed income in a poor neighborhood. Who expects an $800 or $1,000 bill? That "water service" was the second most expensive in the country after Commissioner Sten set into motion (against advisement) the "revamped" billing system.

    Republican? Not likely. Defender of Mr. Sten?

    As I said, for all our sakes and based on his proven track record, he should not be put in charge of another major utility. I figure that just makes me fiscally reponsible -- something obviously of concern to you, too, Suzii.

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    As far as I'm concerned it's political posturing because it attempts to make Portland into a bogeyman by focusing on condemnation, which is one of those hot buttons people get emotional about. Condemnation isn't the issue. The city doesn't even want to use condemnation they just want Enron to come to the table and negotiate. They never even mentioned condemnation until Enron started stonewalling them.

    The water bureau billing thing was a screwup, just not a very relevant one. The city has made it very clear that they understand that PGE needs professional management, not the amateur management provided by city bureaus and their commissioners and that PGE would not be run by a city bureau. Eric Sten is not going to be in charge.

    I don't blame people for being concerned about what City of Portland ownership would look like, that's only rational. It's only rational to work to get some influence. It's even rational to think you might get some influence with the city. How much influence do you think you'll have with the Enron creditors or the next lot of Texans? Zip.

    What isn't rational is making Portland into a bogeyman while ignoring what Enron did to all of us. What isn't rational is opposing the Portland option instead of working with them to try to shape it. What isn't rational is trying to go back to how it used to be and then expecting different results from what we got the last time around.

    And what really isn't rational is to see the PUC as our protector. Those are the guys who stood by and watched while Enron ripped us all off and are still standing by and watching as they continue to rip us off. Whether they have failed to protect us because they don't get it, don't care, have been bought off or are just constrained by the law is also not relevant. They have failed, they are failing and I see no reason why they won't continue to fail.

    As I understand it, all told the cost of the water bureau software screwup and the total of the screwed up billings that might have caused some hardship came to something like $30M. In the end the part we all had to pay for that we shouldn't have had to pay for was <$10M. Enron currently takes approximately six times the larger of those two numbers from us every year for taxes they don't plan to pay.

    I don't dismiss the emotion of the experience of your friend in North Portland, I live in North Portland too and got a taste of that anxiety myself in the six months after I bought a house here. If we are fixated on the emotion of that experience to the point where we don't bother about the hand that's dipping into our bank accounts monthly and extracting far more of our money though--just because it's being orderly about robbing us--what does that make us? The kind of suckers P.T. Barnum and the Enrons of the world like to do business with, that's what kind.

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    Sorry, that last of mine was not supposed to be addressed to Tom, but to dispossessed. Memo to self: Never change your mind about a post in the middle and then go off and leave for an hour, you might forget what you were doing.

    As to the expensive water service, dispossessed, you are misinformed about what those bills are about. It's not the billing fiasco that's causing the sharp increases, it's the sewer charges that are sending our bills through the roof. The sewer bill is also calculated off of the volume of water we use. Our skyrocketing bills are mostly about the combined sewer and stormwater system, the Big Pipe project, and the requirements of the EPA and the DEQ. The billing thing cost $10M or thereabouts. The Big Pipe is on it's way to costing us $1400M.

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    What I wanted to ask Tom was, how did the Clackamas County thing go?

    I love Martha, myself, by the way, we used to practically be neighbors in Canby. It's hard to be around Martha for more than about two seconds without cracking up about something. That's why I was particulaly annoyed by that letter. My response was, et tu Martha?

  • Feeling Blue (unverified)

    When this came up in the Oregonian a couple of weeks back, I was left wondering just who in Salem was ever going to muster the spine to address this issue. In Steve Duin's column today, we finally get a glimpse and Metsger (along with rep. Vicki Walker, D-Eugene) is the Democrat that stepped up.

    Pat, thanks for posting this piece.

    I've been worried that too many folks in Blue Oregon have been unwilling to talk about this issue because of the role that the Senate Democratic leadership appears to be playing in protecting PGE and Pacificorp's (AKA Enron and Scottish Power) "right" to collect tax money from Oregon rate payers for the purpose of paying taxes without actually paying their taxes.

    According to today's Oregonian, Pacificorps alone collected $70 million from rate payers for state taxes over the last 3 years yet paid only 10 million in taxes. A net "profit" of $60 million (bear in mind that Oregon's '03-'04 budget shortfall was in the neighborhood of $500 million).

  • Tom Civiletti (unverified)


    If you mean the TV program, it went alright considering that I was a last minute fill-in host with not enough preperation.

    As to Martha's letter on PGE and CoP, I too am concerned about direction of the utility. I don't like the idea of Portland City Council, the mayor, or the governor [SB 1008] selecting the board of director members, at least not permanently. The board should be elected, with representation based on population. I think the election by district would be appropriate for this situation. That said, any governance scenario would likely be more ratepayer friendly than PGE has been, now or before Enron. PGE has manipulated the legislature, the PUC, and local government for decades, all to extract money from ratepayers and taxpayers and to their profit. If Martha does not know this she is ignorant of important information. If she does know it....

  • doretta (unverified)

    Tom, yeah, exactly how the governance will be done is one of those things people should be in there negotiating with the city about. I want Martha and those in similar positions to be putting the screws on to get what will make them happy on those issues in exchange for their support of the proposal--not torpedoing the whole thing by badmouthing the city in the newspaper instead.

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    <h2>Your interpretation of Martha's remarks seems a little hyperbolic. I did go to the link supplied by dispossesed and her remarks didn't seem off base to me. My guess is that the Trib letter is another tool in the box to achieve what (apparently) you, Martha and I all wish to achieve----assurance that all stakeholders have representation.</h2>

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