The chairman and chief executive of Safeco Corp. said that California's Proposition 103, which is designed to roll back insurance rates 20 percent, amounts to the taking of property without due process of law.

"The Legislature can't take money or property from someone without a trial," Safeco's Bruce Maines said at the Seattle-based company's annual shareholders' meeting last week. "They're entitled to regulate us, but not without a chance for us to be heard."Car insurers have challenged the measure in the California Supreme Court and expect a decision by mid-June. Maines said that if the measure is upheld, "the first thing we can do is not to write any new business" in California.

Car insurance is Safeco's biggest business and California is one of its big states.

"I'm not saying that's what we're going to do," he said. But he said that if carriers are forced to cut personal auto rates 20 percent with no change in costs - and no right to cancel policies - "the insurance market in California's going to be in total chaos. Nobody's going to stand there and go broke."

If Proposition 103 is upheld, Maines said, "a much more practical solution would be to go to the Legislature and negotiate our way through the chaos that will be apparent by then and negotiate some tort reform and some cost reductions so that maybe there can be some premium reductions."

The proposition was approved by California voters in November.