11/15/2006 3:23:00 PM Guest Column Power rates electrify veto session
By Rep. ROGER EDDY For the Daily News
As I mentioned last week, there are really only a couple of pieces of legislation that will be the subject of veto override attempts. But a few other issues could arise during the six days scheduled for the fall session. The dates of the session are Nov. 14-16 and Nov. 28-30. While there could be some surprises, the most widely speculated of these potential veto-session issues are an electric rate freeze, the increase of the state's minimum wage to $7.50 per hour and the possibility of a capital bill being passed.
The most widely discussed issue, and the one on which I have received the most constituent contact, is the electric rate increase issue. Speaker of The House Michael Madigan previously called for a special session of the General Assembly before the election to pass a three-year extension of the current electric rate freeze. At that time, initial press reports suggested that without an extension of the rate freeze, Ameren customers could expect electric rate increases in excess of 50 percent after Jan. 1. This was followed up by additional information which accused ComEd/Exelon (another major electric supplier) of being the most profitable electric utility company in the entire country.
After the initial reports regarding the projected huge rate increases, the major utility companies in Illinois have tried to make their case to the public as well. They claim that the reverse auction process established by the State Utility Board will increase the cost of buying electricity after Jan. 1 to a point that will require them to raise rates or potentially face bankruptcy. They also claim that any increases that cannot be recoverable would result in substantial layoffs of employees. In fact, Ameren claims that simply to maintain solvency for as long as possible, 25 percent of Ameren Illinois utilities' employees (around 700 people) would lose their jobs. Finally, there are concerns that Illinois might not being able to purchase enough electricity if the freeze continues and outages will occur.
You can imagine the panic of electric customers faced with rate increases that are projected at over 50 percent. People on fixed incomes and others already paying higher gas prices simply cannot afford these types of increases in electricity rates. Some employees of Ameren have already received notices of pending layoff. They are facing the very real possibility of the loss of employment. All of this is happening with the holidays fast approaching.
Add to this already difficult situation the fact that some utilities are owned by municipalities and they have specific concerns and, well, we have a real mess here! It is not lost upon me that the mess has been created by the same group that is supposed to clean it up now. The deregulation effort and resulting reverse auction concept has obviously not resulted in an acceptable solution no matter which side one listens to.
Common sense would dictate that it is not possible for utility companies to provide electricity for less than it costs them to buy on the market and still continue to provide reliable service including expedient repairs in times of emergency outages caused by storms. At the same time, it is not acceptable for families to incur rate increases of 50 percent plus. This is especially true when we read reports of utility company executives making multi-million dollar bonuses which would result from these rate hikes.
The answer likely lies somewhere in between the political scare tactics used before the election regarding huge rate increases and the reality that rates will more than likely have to increase sometime in the future. The bottom line is that we in the General Assembly need to do a better job of thinking out a real solution to this problem that will not allow huge increases, not threaten the reliability of electric service, not allow millionaire executives to obscenely profit from rate hikes and consider the fact that many people rely on their jobs with Ameren and other utility companies to feed their families. This is a tough problem that requires hard work and good leadership to solve.
Another issue that will be debated is the governor's proposal to raise the minimum wage in Illinois by $1 per hour to $7.50 per hour. There are those who think it is high time that wages rise to a point that workers receive higher wages and those who firmly believe that this proposal will cost Illinois jobs since we will have a higher minimum wage than other surrounding states.
Finally, last spring, the General Assembly was unable to agree on a capital spending bill including additional money for school construction. A lot of folks thought that after the election was over and the political components of passing a capital bill were out of the way that we would pass something to provide school construction and other capital projects funding. I strongly support the passage of a capital bill at this time, especially making sure that school construction funds are included. The election is over and it is time to work together to tackle these issues in a bi-partisan manner for the good of the people we represent.
I am interested to hear what you think about these and any other issue that concerns you. During the next couple of week, I will keep you informed about the proceedings at during the Veto Session. Please keep me informed as to your thoughts! You can write me at P.O. Box 125, Hutsonville, IL 62433 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also read more on my Web site: www.peopleforeddy.com.
Roger Eddy (R-Hutsonville) represents the 109th District in the Illinois House of Representatives.