12/27/2006 3:32:00 PM Guest Column Better compromise needed on rates
By Rep. ROGER EDDY For the Daily News
Before I get into this week's column regarding legislative news, I want to wish everyone a happy new year! My sincere wish is that 2007 is the best year yet for you and yours! With the new year comes a new legislative session. It means I have another chance to go to Springfield and represent the people of the 109th legislative district. I look forward to that honor and opportunity. However, before we begin the business of the new General Assembly (the 95th), there will be a few days of work for the 94th General Assembly to complete.
The speaker has called for a rare Sunday session of the House of Representatives on Jan. 7. In addition, we will meet Jan. 8-9 to conclude any business necessary related to the 94th General Assembly. On Wednesday, Jan. 10, members of the 95th General Assembly will be sworn in. At that time, the new Senate will be composed of a veto-proof majority of Democrats. The House of Representatives will have 67 Democrat members and 52 Republicans. House Democrats will be four votes short of a veto-proof majority. Democrats will continue to control the House, Senate and governor's office.
During the few remaining days of the 94th General Assembly, look for the speaker to once again run a bill that would freeze electric rates for three additional years. The current rate freeze ends Jan. 1, when rates could increase more than 50 percent for some Ameren customers. A bill that would have frozen these rates failed to get the necessary 71 votes during the November veto session. But after Jan. 1, it would only take a simple majority of 60 votes in the House to pass the freeze. However, the freeze bill would also have to pass in the Senate, where Senate President Emil Jones will not even call the bill for a vote.
During the past couple of weeks, this issue continued to dominate the news and correspondence that I receive from constituents. A rate phase-in bill was passed in the Senate during the veto session. That legislation would allow for a phase-in of rate increases over the next three years. Speaker Michael Madigan sent a letter recently to all General Assembly Members which blasted that particular bill. In the meantime, Ameren filed a rate increase plan with the Illinois Commerce Commission that basically mirrors the Senate Bill. That plan was approved. I assume Ameren is not comfortable that the Senate legislation will ever see the light of day in the House, since the Speaker controls that chamber and is dead set against the Senate bill.
Where does this leave us? The Senate president will not go for a total freeze and that is what the House speaker is supporting. The House speaker will not support the Senate phase-in bill that the Senate president is supporting. If no compromise is agreed to, rates go up automatically Jan. 1 without further action by the ICC.
The bottom line is that the two majority Leaders need to reach a compromise that would allow for graduated rate increases phased in over a longer period of time with single-digit percentage increases that assures reliability of service, continues discounts for all-electric homes, ensures that Ameren and ComEd invest in infrastructure to improve delivery of electricity during bad weather, limits the obscene bonuses that executives stand to make and will lead to competition in the industry. The plan that the ICC recently approved which was offered by the utility companies does not do enough to protect consumers.
After reading the speaker's letter about the Senate phase-in bill, I am convinced that more work must be done to that bill before I could support it. If nothing more is done, though, the rate increases approved by the ICC will occur. Obviously, the politically safe thing to do is to support a total freeze. The problem is that as long as the Senate president will not call a bill that requires a total freeze, those that support a total freeze are actually supporting a strategy that will result in nothing happening and if nothing happens, the rates increase Jan. 1 anyway. My position continues to be that we must work on a better compromise. That will take Madigan and Jones working this thing out.
I am sure that other issues and some surprises will also arise during the short three-day session of the 94th General Assembly in January. We will once again be meeting in the Old State Capitol and I will do my best to keep you informed regarding any important action that takes place.
As far as the spring schedule for the new 95th General Assembly after members are sworn in, a final schedule will be released soon. Remodeling at the State Capitol has made the final schedule uncertain at this time. Once the dates become final, you can check the entire spring calendar on the web at www.ilga.gov.
Once members of the 95th General Assembly are seated and we begin to meet, there will be no shortage of important issues to debate and act upon. The governor has promised new measures to limit gun ownership in the form of assault weapon bans, a capital spending bill, and state-sponsored health care for all. Legislative proposals to promote alternative fuels like ethanol and biodiesel, an attempt to delay the implementation of the reclassification of timberland for property tax purposes as well as many other important proposals will be addressed. This year's budget will also be challenging.
I will start to discuss legislation that I have introduced in the next few weeks. I will also describe other legislative proposals as they are advanced.
Through it all, my sincere hope is that the legislative process is respected and that final action reflects the will of the people of Illinois being accomplished through their elected representatives. Too often, the legislative process has been bypassed by executive order, last-minute legislation and a lack of committee consideration with necessary public input.
As in past years, I will count on your input as issues arise. I will keep you informed through these articles. My effort to represent the people of this district will be successful if I hear from you. Please write me at either P.O. Box 125, Hutsonville, IL 62433; or 222-N, Stratton office Building, Springfield, IL 62706. You can also e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and watch for updates on my Web site, www.peopleforeddy.com.
Rep. Roger Eddy (R-Hutsonville) represents the 109th District in the Illinois House of Representatives.