1/5/2007 2:46:00 PM Guest Column Flawed legislation, and process, led to power-rate mess
By Rep. ROGER EDDY For The Daily News
Well, the seemingly never-ending war of words between House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President Emil Jones over the impending electric rate increases continues.
In early January, Madigan sent a letter to all House and Senate members that provided members of the General Assembly his analysis and concerns on HB 2197. As you will recall, HB 2197 was passed out of the Senate in the November veto session as a compromise phase-in bill for the impending huge increases in electric rates hitting Illinois citizens Jan. 1. The bill would allow for three years of phased-in increases for ComEd and Ameren rather than the huge increases forecast to occur. You will also remember that Madigan prefers an extension of the current freeze for several more years.
After Madigan sent his memo to all General Assembly members, Jones responded with a letter of his own to those members. In his letter, Jones basically said that Madigan and his staff's analysis of HB 2197 were wrong. Jones continued to trumpet HB 2197 as a reasonable phase-in compromise.
To complicate this a bit more, as I explained last week, Ameren and ComEd filed a rate phase-in compromise with the Illinois Commerce Commission that pretty much mirrors the intent of HB 2197. The ICC approved that phase-in plan a couple of weeks ago. As I also mentioned, the House is scheduled to reconvene in Springfield Jan. 7; this issue will be a hot topic and Madigan will likely try to pass legislation out of the House that would freeze rates. However, Jones has declared that such a bill will not be called in the Senate even if it passes the House.
I have not changed my position. A compromise for the good of the citizens of Illinois is needed. In practical terms, we likely cannot continue to freeze rates without some serious problems related to availability of electric service. We also cannot allow electric companies to obscenely profit from what is still an industry devoid of the competition necessary to allow deregulation to occur. We also absolutely cannot allow huge increases in costs (40 to 50 percent in some areas served by Ameren) to take place.
In many ways, there is nothing new to report regarding this situation. I will continue to work to support a compromise that makes sense. What is interesting is the rhetoric contained in this latest letter sent to General Assembly Members by Madigan. In it, Madigan describes the letter sent by Jones to "contain a number of errors and misstatements that must be identified and corrected so that legislators, the media and the public know the facts and are able to understand why this legislation (HB 2197) should not become law." He goes on to describe certain specific interpretations by Jones of HB 2197 as "incomplete and misleading interpretation(s) of the bill." This is very strong rhetoric from the leader of the House challenging the leader of the Senate. I am sure this type of disagreement is not uncommon. It is a little harder to understand this happening, thoug,h since both men are from the same party. Even so, disagreements are not uncommon even within a particular political party regarding complicated issues. What is interesting is the fact that the disagreement is being played out so openly for the media and public.
Madigan does try to tone the letter down a bit with this passage: "It is not my intention to make this an acrimonious or disrespectful exchange. However, the stakes are very high and the General Assembly and the governor will be derelict in their duty to Illinois citizens if they do not devise a plan for the sale of electricity in Illinois that is fair to all parties."
Of course Madigan is right. This is an issue that we must work out and it will take a great deal of work to fashion a fair compromise. That means everyone needs to get to the table and full disclosure is vital. Part of the reason that we are in this mess is that the legislation passed which froze rates and "deregulated" the electric industry more than 10 years ago was badly flawed. That legislation did nothing to truly make the electric industry competitive.
More important, the process that let such poor legislation be passed must be blamed. The language that created this mess was a huge technical amendment attached to a "shell bill" late in the legislative session. Members of the General Assembly did not have time for proper analysis of the legislation and proper hearings were not held in order for consequences, like the one we are now experiencing, to be considered. I have railed against this type of "drive-by" legislation since my first days in the House.
Folks, we need to change the system and return to a process of democracy that allows for legislation to be analyzed and debated so that these types of problems can be avoided. In his letter, Madigan states, "There is no question that this is a difficult issue. House Bill 2197 is 54 pages of very carefully crafted language that requires extraordinarily close scrutiny and cross-referencing in order to understand its provisions. It was not designed to be quickly read and understood. In fact, it required several days of work by the House Democratic staff to put all of the pieces together and reach the conclusion that it would be better for the General Assembly to do nothing than to pass this deeply flawed bill into law."
Madigan concludes his latest letter with these words: "Again, these are tremendously complex matters. As someone who has dealt with them for more than 30 years, I can assure you that it often takes a great deal of patience and study to grasp the nuances of these types of bills and ferret out their true purposes. For the sake of the state's future, the financial well being of million of families and our economic competitiveness, it is essential that we make the effort and we get it right."
We owe it to the people to do our level best to always get it right. Why then, do we so often see unintended consequences that result from shell-bill amendments, often hundreds of pages long, passed in the final hours of a legislative session? The simple answer is that "We, the People" are putting up with it. What can we do to change it? Plenty! More next week...
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. I will also keep you updated on my Web site: www.peopleforeddy.com.