Lawmakers returned to Springfield November 29 for the final week of the fall 2016 veto session.
Dominating legislative action were continued leaders’ meetings to find a path forward on a full-year budget, the approval of an energy bill that would keep two nuclear plants operating, the desire to ensure the Automatic Voter Registration measure prevents fraud and complies with federal law, and the Governor’s veto of a Chicago Public Schools bailout.
Budget Negotiations to Continue
The Governor and legislative leaders met four times during the past week in Springfield in an attempt to move forward with the framework of a balanced, full-year budget with structural reforms. Reforms are an integral part of passing a balanced budget, which in turn would help set Illinois on a sustainable path toward prosperity. Incorporating these reforms in the budget process would provide billions in savings, while at the same time helping to alleviate the exodus of jobs leaving Illinois. Without these reforms, the state will continue down the same destructive path it’s been on, which would be a disservice to the residents of Illinois.
Governor Bruce Rauner has shown his willingness to compromise to achieve a full-year budget; however, he announced this week that he would only sign another stop-gap budget if it contained term limits and a permanent property tax freeze.
While no agreement was reached this week, the legislative leaders plan to meet over the weekend in order to work toward a balanced budget with reforms.
Energy Plan Advances to Governor
The General Assembly passed an energy plan this week that aims to stop electric rates from skyrocketing while saving thousands of jobs throughout the state. Senate Bill 2814, would help put nuclear power more in line with current standards for other low-carbon or no-carbon energy options like wind and solar. In addition, it would help foster the expansion of the existing renewable energy sources in the state.
Supporters of the legislation noted that without this measure, Exelon would be forced to close two facilities due to market and regulatory conditions. The two plants, located in Clinton and Cordova, provide approximately 6,000 direct and indirect jobs. The entire state nuclear fleet contributes $9 billion to the Illinois economy.
Senate Bill 2814 contains a guaranteed cap that energy prices cannot increase more than 25 cents/month on the average residential home if certain energy saving steps are followed, and cannot increase more than 1.3 percent on commercial and industrial users over the next ten years. Rates are projected to decrease for the first several years due to the utilities being able to amortize energy efficiency. It also guarantees the plants remain open for ten years. Exempting the bill from prevailing wage reduced the cost of the bill and eliminated billions of dollars in special interest giveaways.
Those opposed labeled the measure a bailout and stressed that Exelon is a private business operating in a free-market society and therefore they should make the necessary changes internally when revenue is down in order to maintain continuity of services and meet their budgetary goals.
According to a study funded by electric customers, not by power companies, the closures of the Clinton and Cordova Nuclear plants would cost residential power customers $115 million more annually, and hit businesses with $249 million in added costs every year. The study was released by economists at The Brattle Group, a global consulting firm.
Automatic Voter Registration
On November 29, the House of Representatives failed to override the governor’s veto of Senate Bill 250, the Automatic Voter Registration (AVR) bill. There are concerns the measure, as drafted, would run afoul of federal election law, while at the same time opening the door to voter fraud. Ensuring the proper mechanisms were included in the measure was the key reason Senate Republicans supported the Governor’s amendatory veto.
As written, Senate Bill 250 would have required that people automatically be registered to vote when they have contact with certain state agencies. For most, they would be registered when they obtain or renew a driver’s license. Currently, a person must agree to be registered to vote. Under the legislation, a person would automatically be registered unless they asked not to be.
CPS Bailout Vetoed
When lawmakers came to agreement this past June on a temporary stop-gap budget, one component of that budget included $215 million for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to pay Chicago teachers’ pension. In approving the measure, the Governor and four legislative leaders agreed that funds would only be allocated once comprehensive pension reform was reached after the November election, which was the request of Democrat leaders. It was in the spirit of this agreement that Senate Republicans supported this approach.
Unfortunately, Democrats denied this week that such an agreement ever existed and presented Senate Bill 2822 to the Governor for this approval. By breaking their agreement, the Governor had no other choice than to veto the measure, thereby denying CPS the $215 million in funds.
It is time for the games to stop, and it is time to put Illinois on the right fiscal track.