By Jamey Dunn
Tweaks to two major legislative packages emerged the day before the fall veto legislative session is scheduled to begin.
Waukegan Democratic Sen. Terry Link said he plans to bring a bill that contains Gov. Pat Quinn’s suggested changes for the gaming expansion up for a floor vote in the Senate this week. Quinn said last week that he supported five new casinos in the state, including one owned by the city of Chicago, but opposed the slot machines at horse racing tracks that would be allowed under the gaming plan lawmakers approved in the spring session.
Last week, Link told Illinois Issues that legislation based on Quinn’s demands could not find the support needed to pass in the Senate. However, Link said today: “I will carry it with sincerity. I will tell all the facts, figures and everything that the governor has in it. I will … make it as a positive endeavor.” He said if it does not pass, he plans to sponsor a trailer bill in the last week of veto session that he hopes will be a “compromise” that the governor can accept. Quinn has been unable to veto the gaming bill because a parliamentary move was used to hold it from going to his desk. But he said last week that given the opportunity, he would use his veto pen on Senate Bill 744. Link would not share any details today about a potential trailer bill.
Gov. Pat Quinn has also shot down a plan that sponsors say would help the state’s two biggest utility companies update Illinois’ electrical grid. Quinn was a vocal opponent of Senate Bill 1652 when lawmakers passed it last spring. He followed through on his vow to veto the bill and has been urging residents to call their lawmakers and ask them to vote against a potential override of his veto.
The measure would allow the companies to increase consumer rates in exchange for a $3.2 billion investment in the grid over 10 years.
Supporters worked to craft a follow-up bill that they say would tighten restrictions on Ameren and Commonwealth Edison. They hope it will be enough top drum up the supermajority needed to undo Quinn’s veto. A Senate committee approved the changes today.
“I commended the governor for vetoing the bill, having voted against it. There were clearly some defects in Senate Bill 1652 that caused concern for myself and other members of the General Assembly who voted ‘no,’” Oak Park Democratic Sen. Don Harmon said. Harmon is the sponsor of House Bill 3036, the so-called trailer bill that asks more of utilities and would only go into effect if lawmakers vote to override the governor’s veto. Harmon said the plan “would make that underlying bill, in my opinion, much better.”
House Bill 3036 would increase reliability standards and require the utilities to spend more of their investment on traditional infrastructure, such as buried power lines, to make transmission more reliable. The plan calls for spending on so-called smart grid technologies — which allow utilities to better monitor lines, outages and transmission in real time — as well as basic costs like power lines and poles.
The original legislation requires ComEd to create 2,000 jobs under the plan and Ameren to create 450 jobs. Harmon said his bill would crack down on how those jobs are counted to avoid the potential double counting of a single job. It would also increase the penalty for not meeting those hiring goals from $3,000 per job to $6,000.
The bill calls for both companies to spend an annual combined total of $60 million a year on rate relief programs for low-income customers.
The legislation would also lower the return on equity the companies would be allowed to earn from 10.4 percent to about 9.7 percent. Harmon said in years two through 10 of the plan, the return would be capped at 8 percent to 9 percent. Consumer advocates said the utilities should not be able to make more than 10 percent returns on their investments, since they would likely be backed with rate increases.
Despite such changes, major consumer advocacy groups, along with Quinn and Attorney General Lisa Madigan, remain opposed to the plan.
“We don’t think ... it addresses the fundamental problems,” said Scott Musser, associate state director of AARP Illinois. “I think we need to start from square one on this and go a new direction and get everyone at the table. One of the fundamental problems all along is there hasn’t been substantial negotiations.”
Madigan blasted the proposed changes to the plan. “Just like they tried to muscle this legislation through the spring session, ComEd and Ameren are at it again. On the eve of veto session, the utility companies gave the public just 59 minutes to review their smart grid “trailer bill” before taking it to the Senate for a vote. If ComEd and Ameren’s proposal were actually a “smart” deal for consumers, it would hold its own rather than be rushed through the process without public input. Instead, ComEd and Ameren have produced a “Trojan Horse” deal that’s designed to distract us from what this legislation really does: guarantee the utilities’ profits, mandate automatic, annual rate hikes and eviscerate independent oversight,” the attorney general said in a written statement.
For more on what to expect during veto session, see Illinois Issues' roundup of the big issues with links to background piec