Press Release — for immediate distribution — September 24, 2014
Secretary of State gives bad deadline to No Sun Tax Petition, causes petition to fail.
The “No Sun Tax” petition was an attempt to call a statewide vote on SB 1456 passed by the 2014 session of the Legislature, allowing electric utility corporations to add a surcharge to the bills of customers who use grid tied solar panels or wind generators, under the questionable economic assumption that such customers are somehow being “subsidized” by other classes of ratepayers.
On September 12th, Bob Waldrop received a copy of a letter from the Secretary of State Chris Benge to attorney Glenn Coffee, in response to his letter of August 24th requesting a clarification” of the deadline for submitting a referendum petition. Mr. Benge forwarded the request to the Attorney General’s office and the Attorney General responded on September 8th.
In the letter, Tom Bates, First Assistant Attorney General, reports that there are two deadlines for referendum petitions. One is in Title 34, the law regulating petitions, which says 90 days after the adjournment of the Legislature OR 90 days after it has been cleared for circulation by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. However, the Constitution says that such petitions must be submitted within 90 days of the adjournment of the Legislature. Since the State Constitution is supreme in such matters, the conclusion of the Attorney General’s office, dated September 8, 2014, is that the deadline was August 21, 2014, 90 days after the legislative session closed.
Pollnow and Waldrop released this statement about the situation.
STATEMENT REGARDING THE CONSTITUTIONAL IGNORANCE OF CHRIS BENGE, OKLAHOMA SECRETARY OF STATE
We started this petition because SB 1456 is an outrageous abuse of the common good that was rooted in unproven economic assumptions.
The real threats to electrical rates are the capital costs of building new generation
capacity and the price of natural gas. By making private investments in electrical
generation capacity, that will feed electricity into the grid at the times it is most needed —
hot afternoons in the summer — these customers, over the long term, may help eliminate
the need for future rate increases due to power plant construction costs. They should
not be punished with a solar surcharge. They are not being subsidized by anyone.
When we asked the Secretary of State’s people questions about procedures and deadlines,
they repeatedly referred us to Title 34. We assumed that the Secretary was competent
and knowledgeable and had ensured that his people were properly trained in procedures
and legal requirements. At no time did anyone suggest that there was information in the State Constitution pertinent to this petition. Because of the incomplete information given to us by employees of the Office of the Secretary of State, we had to stop our referendum petition effort because the deadline was already past.
We feel bad that we naively trusted the competency of the Secretary of State and didn’t
think about reading the Constitution itself. But we feel worse about the evident incompetence and constitutional ignorance of the Secretary of State, Chris Benge. One would think that all cabinet-level officers in Governor Fallin’s administration would have at least read the State Constitution and have some understanding of its requirements — especially one with so many constitutional duties as our Secretary of State. They would then ensure that all of their people were properly trained in the demands of the Constitution. That evidently did not happen in the Secretary of State’s office.
We have no inside knowledge about why this mistake was made, so we are making the charitable assumption that the problem was the constitutional ignorance of Secretary Benge. He is the Secretary of State and so the buck stops on his desk for mistakes of this magnitude. The alternative to constitutional ignorance, of course, is that he deliberately sabotaged our petition effort. Business doesn’t get much bigger in Oklahoma than the monopoly electric utility conglomerates and we know which side of those arguments the Fallin administration is on.
Going forward, the only hope to have this law repealed is to defeat the legislators and governor who enacted it into law and elect new legislators and a new governor who are not the bought and sold property of rent-seeking monopolistic business conglomerates who distort the public process for their own private gain.
We are grateful for all of the support we received from people who circulated the petitions and from those willing to sign the petition.
And to all of them we say, “Our time will come!”