Quinn vetoes electric-rate hike; legislators likely to override - KMSP-TV

Quinn vetoes electric-rate hike; legislators likely to override

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (Sun-Times Media Wire) -

Gov. Pat Quinn on Sunday vetoed legislation that would raise electricity rates by $70 million a year for the modernization of the electrical grid.

"I think it's very important to make sure that we put the people of Illinois ahead of profits of big utility companies," he told reporters before firmly stamping the document "Vetoed" and signing his name. The governor said regular folks are on fixed incomes and these hikes can hurt them.

But the veto doesn't mean the rate hike won't happen, the Chicago Sun-Times reports.

The measure, known as Senate Bill 9, passed each house with veto-proof majorities: 86-28 with 3 voting present in the House and 44-9 with 1 voting present in the Senate.

Rep. Lou Lang (D-Skokie), the House sponsor of the bill, said Sunday he expected the governor's denial and said it won't stick.

"I fully expect the governor's veto will be overridden," he said.

Senate President John Cullerton, (D-Chicago) the Senate sponsor, will also ask for an override vote, his spokeswoman said Sunday.

It's what ComEd hopes for, the utility said in a statement.

"This bill would get the Smart Grid back on track and allow ComEd to build a modern grid to reduce power outages, give customers more choice and control over their energy use, and create thousands of much-needed jobs," it said in a statement.

The governor, though, said an override will hurt the state, its people and businesses.

An override, he said, "would be a bad idea. ... Stable energy prices are one of the best ways to attract new businesses and keep businesses and keep jobs."

Quinn, who helped establish the Citizens Utility Board in the 1980s and had one of its first mailings at hand, also rejected lawmakers' role in this issue.

"I think it's important to say ‘No' to unfairness and definitely say ‘No' to a process, an unfortunate process, that has become a very disturbing trend; where if utilities don't get something from the Illinois Commerce Commission, they run off to the Legislature and they do an end run," the governor said. The ICC acts a watchdog for the public, the governor said. He added "it's important" the companies invest in infrastructure, but he rejected this measure as the way to do it.

Lang said the utilities weren't "sidestepping anyone." Instead, the ICC "misinterpreted the smart-grid law" and that's why the utilities went to lawmakers.

"When they came to the Legislature, we were only too happy to clean it up," Lang said.

Cullerton has said the decision by the ICC to cut rates was a misinterpretation of smart-grid legislation passed in 2011 to bankroll a $2.6 billion ComEd smart-grid upgrade over the next decade.

Cullerton's spokeswoman, Rikeesha Phelon, added the ICC provided "input" for Senate Bill 9.

Under the proposal, ComEd would have 10 years to complete its so-called smart-grid modernization, and customers would not see their rates increase until 2014. The utility estimates the average residential utility bill will jump by about 40 cents a month and increase by 80 cents per month by 2017.

The measure would also restore funding to ComEd and Ameren Illinois that was lost when the Illinois Commerce Commission imposed rate cuts on the utilities last May and again in October. The utility had challenged the commission in court when it was denied about $100 million in rate hikes, of which only $65 million-$70 million is addressed in the legislation, ComEd claims.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan has also indicated she opposes the bill.

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