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home : local news : local news July 9, 2020

1/9/2007 2:12:00 PM Email this articlePrint this article 
House blocks rate freeze in political battle


The Illinois House voted Sunday to block a sharp increase in electric rates, despite accusations the legislation is 'a hoax' on Illinois consumers.

Although the House voted 71-29 to freeze rates, the Senate is unlikely to consider the measure. It has already passed legislation to allow the higher rates but to phase them in over three years.

House Republican Leader Tom Cross said every lawmaker knows electric rates won't be frozen, either because the Senate won't approve or because the courts would overturn the legislation.

'It's a hoax,' Cross said. 'Let's not kid ourselves. Let's not kid the people of Illinois.'

"It's unconscionable that this critical issue has become the centerpiece in the power struggle between House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President Emil Jones," State Rep. Roger Eddy (R-Hutsonville) said. "Families in my district don't care about which Chicago Democrat thinks he's 'top dog' in Springfield. They do care that their electric rates are about to go up 40 to 50 percent and the leaders who control the House and the Senate won't work together to help."

When the new year began, a 10-year freeze on electric rates ended. The long freeze was intended to provide time for a competitive electricity market to develop and drive down prices.

But the competition never materialized. Now ComEd customers will see their bills increase by about 22 percent, or $13 a month. Ameren customers will see a range of increases, topping out at 55 percent, or around $30.

The power companies say their costs have increased and they could go bankrupt if they aren't allowed to pass those higher costs along to customers. They warn bankruptcy would mean hundreds of job cuts and, potentially, less reliable service.

'What this plan does is create the illusion of affordability for customers but not allow us to recoup the money we need to maintain the system and serve our customers. It potentially guts reliability,' said ComEd vice president Anne Pramagiorre.

ComEd says it could live with the Senate plan to allow the higher rates to take effect over three years. Ameren opposes even that, saying the Legislature shouldn't interfere at all.

Analysts who follow the electric industry say the utilities' concerns are genuine, but critics say the companies are crying wolf.

House Speaker Madigan has been particularly outspoken in questioning the companies' warning.

'I have said time and time again, utility companies bear watching,' Madigan said Sunday evening. 'They're not going to go bankrupt. In order to go bankrupt, the management of the company has to take the company into the bankruptcy court. (Executives) are not going to take the company into the bankruptcy court because they would be subject to intense scrutiny.'

He has called the Senate's phase-in legislation a 'deeply flawed bill,' and the House adjourned Sunday night without voting on the idea. Despite his snub of the Senate legislation, Madigan said he hopes the Senate considers his plan to freeze rates.

Senate President Emil Jones, however, gave no indication he is interested, saying the Senate had already done its part to handle the rate increase responsibly.

"The rate freeze bill will never see the light of day in the Senate, Senate President Jones has already made that clear," Eddy said. "We expect to see a phase in bill later this week in the house, which has already been approved in the Senate, but the bill that was just approved was just a political bill and that's sad because it gives people false hope."

With each chamber rejecting legislation from the other, consumers may wind up without any relief even though lawmakers can say they voted to help.

The bill is SB1714.

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