4/24/2007 3:44:00 PM Guest column Finger-pointing continues on power rate issue
By Rep. ROGER EDDY For the Daily News
Another week has passed by without final action by the General Assembly on the electric rate issue. Last week, the Senate passed an amended version of a Senate bill that would roll back rates for Ameren customers only. House Speaker Michael Madigan will likely not allow that bill to be called in the House because ComEd customers would not be provided relief from the rate increases that went into effect on Jan. 1. If you remember, the House passed a bill a few weeks back that would roll back and freeze rates for both utility giants to prior levels.
What does this mean? For one thing, it means that the General Assembly has failed to provide Illinois citizens relief from these ridiculous rate increases. Without some compromise legislation, the higher rates continue. It also means that the Democratic majority which controls whether or not this problem is addressed has failed the citizens of Illinois. Madigan blames Senate President Emil Jones while Jones blames Madigan. Meanwhile, Gov. Rod Blagojevich has tried to blame the entire General Assembly and continues to claim that he will sign a rate freeze bill just as soon as one is on his desk. The three leaders are all pointing their fingers at each other while the problem persists and the people of this state continue to suffer from these high rates.
For months, members of the General Assembly on both sides of the aisle have been demanding a compromise solution. This is one of the most important issues that we will deal with this year. The time for leadership from Madigan, Jones and Blagojevich has come and gone and we have all been deeply disappointed in the lack of leadership displayed on this issue while these three powerful men have played "point the finger." It is time for action by the people of Illinois and members of the General Assembly. When elected leaders fail us, we have an obligation to act. In the coming days, there must be action. It is time to fix the problem and to stop attempting to fix the blame!
The next huge issue that it appears leaders cannot agree on is the budget. Blagojevich has presented a budget that includes a record tax increase of between $8 and $10 billion. He has proposed health care for all Illinois citizens and increases in education funding in order to increase foundation levels, providing more money for special education and early childhood programs and additional revenue for programs to assist in increasing student achievement. He also supports an aggressive capital program to continue of a very popular school construction program. While many agree that additional funds may be necessary, few agree with the governor's proposal about how to pay for the programs.
This past week in Springfield, there was a huge rally against the governor's gross-receipts tax proposal. Hearings also began on SB 1 (the GRT legislation). The hearing room was jam-packed for the presentation of this record tax increase proposal. The House was in session during the hearing and I was not able to attend the Senate hearing. However, from all accounts that I heard from people present at the hearing and accounts I read in newspapers, the governor's proposal did not gain any momentum as a result of the hearings.
It seems that Madigan, Jones and Blagojevich are in at least some agreement as to the need for additional revenue. However, it is unlikely that Madigan will support the current GRT proposal. Many believe that he prefers a plan like HB 50 which increases the income tax and broadens the sales-tax base while providing some relief in property taxes. Jones supports Blagojevich and the GRT. Last week, the governor stated that he would keep legislators in Springfield all summer if that is what it takes to pass his GRT plan. Do not be surprised to see a similar showdown over the budget among the three leaders that we are experiencing with the electric rate issue.
While GRT, the budget and electric rates remain the much-publicized hot-button issues, we did act on other bills in the House last week. Here is a rundown:
* HB 263 is a bill that I sponsored which would require child sex offenders to vote early or by absentee ballot. It also requires child sex offenders to stay away from school bus stops. The bill passed by a 110-3 margin and heads to the Senate.
HB 1320 received about 67 of the required 71 votes needed for passage. This measure would allow judges and prosecutors to carry weapons. It is considered a scaled-down conceal-and-carry bill. The sponsor might bring it back for another vote after attempting to secure the additional necessary votes for passage. I voted for the bill.
HB 1732 failed. This bill would have allowed a person to change their gender on their birth certificate if they take injections initiating a sex change. The bill only received 32 votes. I voted "no."
HB 3658, which requires adult supervision for any person under the age of 12 to dispense fuel into a container, passed with the bare minimum of 60 votes. I voted "no." Can we all say "nanny-state" together?
HB 1711, which outlaws horse slaughter in Illinois, passed the House for the first time. It received 74 votes on the day Bo Derek was in the Chamber. (Coincidence... I think not.) Bo (yes, the "10" Bo) is a nationwide anti-slaughter advocate. This is a very emotionally charged issue and I understand those who support the bill. However, based on the overwhelming number of my constituents urging me to oppose this bill, I voted "no."
That is all the space that we have this week. I can tell you that the smoking-ban bill has not been called for a vote in the House as yet. Also, HB 613, which is legislation that I have sponsored to bring some reasonableness to the NPDES (septic system) permitting process, is now on third reading in the House and I plan to call the bill for a vote this week. We also extended the Woodland Tax Task Force to allow further discussion of new rates for woodlands in Illinois.
If I missed a bill you are interested in, you can track the status of any bill or even listen to the action live at www.ilga.gov. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org); write to me at Box 125, Hutsonville, IL 62433; or call us at (618) 563-4128. You can also keep up with important issues at my Web site (now with audio clips)- www.peopleforeddy.com.