Schaumburg: The cost for more expensive electricity

On March 21, the Illinois House passed a modest pension reform bill.

No entity was happier than the state’s two electricity providers.

While everybody was excited the House made a small step toward fixing its biggest problem – pensions – they forgot to notice the House also passed a measure on the same day that allows ComEd and Ameren to raise electricity rates over the next decade in exchange for installing a smart-grid infrastructure.

If this feels like déjå vü, that’s because it is. The power companies got the OK to raise rates in 2011 to pay for the smart-grid installation. The Illinois Commerce Commission didn’t take too kindly, according to a Crain’s Chicago Business story, and rejected three of the utilities’ requests after that initial bill passed. This new bill makes those requests law. It passed the Senate on March 14, and now awaits Gov. Pat Quinn’s veto before the Legislature overrides the veto.

So those of you in electricity-aggregation-less communities will be paying more soon for electricity.

For those of you scoring at home, state Sens. Pam Althoff, R-McHenry, and Karen McConnaughay, R-St. Charles, voted in favor of the bill. State Sen. Dan Duffy, R-Lake Barrington, opposed. Bravo, Mr. Duffy.

In the House, state Reps. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills; Tim Schmitz, R-Batavia; Mike Tryon, R-Crystal Lake; and Barb Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake, supported the measure. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, voted no. Kudos, Mr. Franks.

The Better Government Association earlier this month released a report showing how much money the power companies and their employees funneled toward state lawmakers between Jan. 1, 2012, and March 21, the date the smart-grid bill passed the House.

Some of its findings:

• In that timeframe, Ameren and ComEd (including its parent company, Exelon), their employees and political action committees donated $1.36 million to lawmakers, candidates for state office and political party organizations.

• Ameren was more willing to part with its money than ComEd. Ameren contributed $850,087 compared with ComEd’s $507,492.

• House Minority Leader Tom Cross accepted the most money ($46,850), followed by Senate President John Cullerton ($41,500), Sen. Mike Jacobs ($41,000), House Speaker Michael Madigan ($37,000) and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno ($24,500). Cullerton, Jacobs and Madigan are Democrats. Cross and Radogno are Republicans.

You know who was sixth on the BGA’s list? McSweeney.

According to BGA, McSweeney got $22,000. A quick tour by yours truly through campaign disclosure statements could find only $16,500 in contributions to McSweeney.

Regardless, McSweeney far outpaced other lawmakers who represent McHenry County residents. From what I could find, Franks got $7,000, Schmitz received $4,500, Tryon got $4,000, Althoff received $3,500 and McConnaughay got $2,000. Duffy and Wheeler came in at zero dollars in my search.

We all know the role money plays in policymaking. My stance on money and government was documented in this space last month.

There’s no proof that any lawmaker was persuaded to vote for or against the smart-grid measure based on political donations, and I’m not here to suggest or insist one way or the other.

I’m just here to provide the facts.

• Jason Schaumburg is editor of the Northwest Herald. He thinks voter turnout might not be so low if we were allowed to vote online. Reach him at 815-459-4122 or via email at jschaumburg@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Schaumy.

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