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The Oregonian — Editorials

Adding insult to injury at PGE

05/01/03


We were mistaken last year in thinking there was no particular urgency to resolving the ownership of Portland General Electric. Tomorrow, PGE's parent company, Enron, crosses the 17-month mark since it filed for bankruptcy on Dec. 2, 2001.

The catalog of outrages just keeps growing.

As reported by The Oregonian's Gail Kinsey Hill, Enron paid the top five executives at PGE bonuses of $975,000 last year, the same amount they stand to collect this year. These are not bonuses as conventionally understood, for success in hitting an earnings goal or cost-cutting target; these are retention bonuses -- extra pay for just showing up.

We've been told that retention bonuses aren't unusual. They are often used to keep a troubled organization from losing top management.

But it's the wrong tactic for a company whose workers lost their 401(k) savings in worthless Enron stock. And it's an insult to customers hit with 30 percent and 50 percent power rate increases.

The disclosure of bonuses for the top executives at American Airlines forced it to renegotiate union contracts to stave off bankruptcy. It also forced the airline's chief executive to resign.

That apparently doesn't mean much at Enron. In addition to signing bonus checks, it has reportedly run up almost $400 million in fees and legal costs.

With the welcome news that the Oregon Public Utility Commission staff has recommended a more thorough investigation of PGE's practices comes the thought that there is greater urgency to the city of Portland's efforts to buy the company.

When Enron bought PGE, its main interest was Enron, not the well-being of the Northwest. PGE ownership by Portland would change that.

It can't happen soon enough.


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