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San Jose Mercury News (California)
Sep 03, 2004 - 01:00 AM

by John Woolfolk; Mercury News

The bills stop here;

'LITMUS TEST' MUST BE COMPLETED BY END OF MONTH
He has billed himself the people's governor, declared jobs vs. environment a false choice and vowed to bolster California's business climate by reversing what he called years of government overspending and over-regulation.

Now Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger must make some hard decisions as he confronts a raft of bills on energy, jobs, cell phones and cars that pit the interests of business against those of consumer, labor and environmental groups.

''I think this is the ultimate litmus test of whether the governor is going to put the real people's interest above the dollars he receives from special interest groups,'' said Jamie Court, president of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights.

Officially, the governor does not take positions on bills before signing or vetoing them, but Schwarzenegger has telegraphed his intentions on some of them. He has until the end of the month to sign or veto about 1,000 bills sent to him by the Legislature.

Schwarzenegger is expected to veto AB 2006, major energy legislation by Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles.

The bill is backed by consumer advocates and the Southern California Edison utility, who say it will lay a regulatory framework for California's electricity system that will provide market stability and safeguards for consumers. But independent energy producers such as San Jose-based Calpine, other utilities such as Pacific Gas & Electric and business groups say it will lead to high-cost utility monopolies.

Schwarzenegger's energy statements indicate he favors a different approach, and his resources secretary opposed the bill. The only thing he sought from the Legislature -- authority to let businesses shop around again for power outside the utilities -- was dropped.

''I think he's made it clear he's planning to veto it,'' said Jan Smutny-Jones, executive director of the Independent Energy Producers Association, adding that with on-the-fly amendments to the bill the ''potential for unintended results coming out of this is high.''

Consumer advocates talk of a possible ballot measure if Schwarzenegger vetoes the bill, but they remain hopeful he'll sign it.

''We think it's a good basis for an energy policy,'' said Mike Florio, an attorney for The Utility Reform Network. ''I know the initial indications aren't good, but we hope when he focuses personally on it rather than hearing from his advisers, he'll see the wisdom of it.''

Environmentally oriented energy bills are likely to fare better, since Schwarzenegger vowed to promote renewable energy. Though his solar-housing bill failed, he's not expected to oppose a stopgap measure, AB 135 by Assemblywoman Sarah Reyes, D-Fresno, to ensure continued funding for a solar rebate program.

And a bill by Sen. Byron Sher, D-San Jose, to advance a deadline for utilities to get 20 percent of their power from renewable sources to 2010 from 2017 captures a Schwarzenegger campaign promise.

But it's uncertain whether Schwarzenegger's green leanings will stand up to industry opposition to a bill by Assemblywoman Fran Pavley, D-Woodland Hills, requiring retailers to take back and recycle unwanted cell phones at no cost to the consumer.

Also uncertain is whether Schwarzenegger will sign AB 1839 by Assemblywoman Cindy Montanez, D-Mission Hills, that would enhance consumer protections for car buyers such as regulating ''certified'' used-car sales. A controversial ''cooling off'' period provision was dropped, but the auto industry, a major Schwarzenegger contributor, still opposes the bill.

Schwarzenegger's finance department has signaled his opposition to AB 2832, a bill by Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, D-San Jose, to raise the minimum wage a dollar to $7.75 an hour. And he also is expected to oppose bills restricting companies from contracting work overseas, a practice known as ''offshoring'' that labor unions oppose but businesses deem critical to their competitiveness.
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Contact John Woolfolk at jwoolfolk@mercurynews.com




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