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APPENDIX TO REPORT OF COMMITTEE ON
REPORTS OF SUB-COMMITTEES
ON MUNICIPAL OWNERSHIP
Alex Dow, Chairman
ON PUBLIC REGULATION AND CONTROL
ON THE LONDON SLIDING SCALE AS APPLIED TO ELECTRICITY
Samuel Insull, Chairman Charles L. Edgar
ON TAXATION AND FRANCHISES
ON INDUSTRIAL INSURANCE, REWARDS AND PENSIONS Joseph B. McCall, Chairman
J. W. Lieb, Jr.
ON PUBLICITY AND POPULAR EDUCATION
ON RATES AND METHODS OF CHARGING (NO REPORT) Charles L. Edgar, Chairman Henry L. Doherty
REPORT OF SUB-COMMITTEE ON MUNICIPAL
To the Committee on Public Policy, National Electric Light Asso
The sub-committee on Municipal Ownership has received during the year only one inquiry from a member for specific information. This inquiry came from a Texas member conipany and related to a municipal plant located in Missouri. The sub-committee was able to furnish the information requested. In addition to this specific inquiry a number of general inquiries, which could 'be answered by reference to publications or by the forwarding of printed matter on file in the office of the association, have been dealt with directly by the assistant secretary of the association.
The sub-committee has not thought it necessary to ask for reports from all member companies, but has kept itself generally advised as to municipal ownership of electric-lighting plants and has studied with care several instances that appeared to be of more than usual interest. From the general information received and from these special studies, the sub-committee is of opinion that during the twelve months since the last convention municipal ownership of electric-lighting plants in the United States has been stationary, with a marked tendency to retrogression. We do not feel warranted in saying that there is an actual recession in the municipal ownership of electric-lighting properties. Our opinion is that the propaganda in favor of such ownership is losing its vitality and that actual retrogression may be expected to follow.
To a large extent this decadence of the municipal-ownership idea is due to the rapidly-approaching culmination of the idea of public regulation. These two ideas are alternatives. The acceptance of the idea that certain public services can be practically and equitably regulated by the municipality, or the state, or the nation, involves the abandonment of the earlier popular idea that municipal ownership of such services was the only way in which good service could be secured at reasonable rates. The socialistic element of our population, setting up ownership and operation of all public services as an ideal, does not accept public regulation as a substitute for public ownership, but only as a step toward that goal. In fact, some socialist teachers object to regulation as tending to postpone ownership. (See the articles by Professor Frank Parsons in the Boston American during the winter of 1905-6, criticizing the Massachusetts state system of regulation.) But the general mass of our citizenship seeks, as an end, merely good service at reasonable rates and has no prejudice regarding the means by which this end shall be attained. It is to this general mass that the arguments of the parties to any contest must be addressed and it is by their votes that all such questions must be decided. At the present time it appears to us that the majority of voters are minded to give a trial to public regulation as a remedy for grievances from which they suffer, or think they suffer, and that municipal ownership is temporarily forgotten. We think it necessary to repeat and accent this statement. Municipal ownership is not discredited; it is merely forgotten. It would be a serious error to assume that the present movement of public sentiment toward public regulation signifies that municipal ownership is now or is soon going to be consigned to the limbo of discredited theories, along with such past crazes as free coinage of silver at a ratio of 16 to 1. If public regulation shall fail to establish a good understanding between the corporations operating public utilities and the customers of those corporations, we shall inevitably have a revival of the cry for municipal ownership.
The most valuable lessons to be taught by the municipal ownership history of the past twelve months are drawn from contests and campaigns in which electric lighting was not the leading or immediate issue; namely, the campaigns leading up to the London, England, county council elections on Saturday, March 2, 1907; the Chicago mayoralty election and street-railway ordinance vote on Tuesday, April 2, 1907; and a few contests of less general interest, to be mentioned later herein. These important lessons appear to us to be as follows:
First-There remains in the mind of the average voter a prejudice against public service corporations, causing him to believe such corporations guilty of any charge brought against them until they are shown to be innocent.
The difficulty of getting a fair jury when a corporation is a party to a trial is so well known that I need not present any proof. The voter at an election should weigh the evidence before him exactly as if he were a juryman at a trial. Unfortunately, a prejudiced voter can not be disqualified for prejudice.
Second—The recent elections, particularly those in London and Chicago, show that the initial prejudice of the voter may be overcome.
It is being freely said by the proponents of municipal ownership that the issue in London was not municipal ownership, but was high taxation due to street openings, and so forth. (See Everybody's Magazine for May, page 718, where Mr. Charles Edward Russell says this.) The proof to the contrary is very complete. Visitors to the National Electric Light Association convention in Washington will find on a table a scrap-book containing an assortment of the printed matter distributed by both parties in the London contest, which, without other evidence, will prove that municipal ownership—or, as it is called in England, municipal trading—was the dominant issue. If any doubt remains, the statement by Sir William Treloar, lord mayor of London, speaking at the London Automobile Show on March 7, should settle that doubt. He said: “I believe this election was gained not at all, or very slightly, on political lines. It was a protest of the electors against municipal trading.” The London Times of February 27, before the election, states that a committee of the London Chamber of Commerce invited all the reform candidates—that is to say, the candidates of the party that was successful—to state whether or not they were opposed to municipal trading and whether, if elected, they would do what they could to oppose the system. Out of 118 candidates 84 replied unconditionally in the affirmative to both questions, and the Times adds that in nearly every case the candidates in their addresses absolutely condemned competition with private enterprises.
As to the Chicago election, at which the issue was municipal or company ownership of street railways, it appears to us that the decisive factor in the contest was the frank disbelief of the general voting population in the ability of the municipal government to give good transportation service and the equally frank acceptance of the idea that a corporation reasonably capitalized and reasonably controlled could and would give the service