KernTax is a member-supported, 501(c) 4 non-profit corporation, with the mission to bring about more accountable, effective, efficient, reliable government. Basing its actions on common sense, innovation and the long-term view, KernTax crafts positions based on adopted values. Founded in 1939, KernTax is the guard dog protecting the interests of Kern County taxpayers.

KernTax views any government collection of funds through any financial conduit to be taxation, be it identified as a tax, a fee for government service or a regulated rate structure. If it is excessive or not appropriate, KernTax must, by charter, act to educate and facilitate resolution and ensure fair representation and treatment. We do not seek subsidies; we seek a reasonable return to our local citizens from all regulatory bodies and their agent for levied taxes, fees, or regulated services.

As part of that responsibility, KernTax has been a statewide leader in the battle to lower PG&E customers’ energy costs through residential rate reform.

But now, the company is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, facing billions of dollars in liabilities from catastrophic wildfires its equipment caused in Northern California in 2017 and 2018. Many PG&E customers right here in Kern County fear their energy rates will rise to pay the mounting costs of those claims.

Fortunately, there is a common-sense solution, at this time being considered, that prioritizes the victims of these terrible fires and protects energy customers from any bill increases.

Assembly Bill 235, as currently proposed before the Legislature, authorizes the issuance of Wildfire Victim Recovery Bonds to ensure that wildfire victims are paid quickly, without increasing PG&E customer bills. The company – not its customers – would finance the bonds by accepting reduced profits over the life of the bonds.

What’s more, the bill as proposed would put critical ratepayer protections into law by prohibiting the use of a portion of legislation passed last year that allows utilities to pass on wildfire costs to customers. AB 235 makes PG&E, not its customers, pay 100 percent of past wildfire damage claims.

The bonds would also be used to fund PG&E’s portion of the new state Wildfire Fund established to protect victims of future fires. Again, this promises to partially. protect ratepayers from having to bear the burden of wildfire liability costs.

To be sure, customers are right to question any proposal directed toward solving this multi-billion dollar. The past record of broken promises has left Kern County ratepayers with burdens dating back to previous promises made to the ratepayers. However, this bill provides for necessary oversight of PG&E’s bond repayment plan; the duty of the California Public Utilities Commission is to approve the financing and compel PG&E to pay the costs through its own earnings, not through more obscure customer charges that ratepayers cannot understand.

AB 235, as currently drafted, protects the hard-working people of Kern County. Kerntax asks you to contact your state representatives and urge them to support this proposal. KernTax views this as a good-faith effort to solve a much larger problem.

Michael Turnipseed is the executive director of the Kern County Taxpayers Association.