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Democratic senator seeks to override Quinn veto with new ComEd bill

Governor PQuinn presents his demands for signing gaming expansibill Monday October 17 2011. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

Governor Pat Quinn presents his demands for signing the gaming expansion bill, Monday, October 17, 2011. | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 26, 2011 8:12AM

A key Senate Democrat muscled out of a Senate panel Monday a series of sweeteners to Commonwealth Edison-backed, rate-increase legislation amid predictions he may have the votes to override Gov. Pat Quinn’s veto of the original package.

By a 14-1 vote, the Senate Executive Committee signed off on the sweeteners proposed by Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), possibly setting the stage for a full Senate vote on the $2.6 billion rate-increase legislation this week.

In exchange for a series of rate increases, Harmon’s proposal would require ComEd to invest more in storm-proofing its power-grid system, commit to annual guaranteed profits of less than 10 percent during the next decade and establish a fund for needy ratepayers who can’t afford to pay their electricity bills.

Those changes, Harmon said, “make dramatic improvements to the bill that was passed in the spring, focusing on increased reliability, job creation and protection for ratepayers.”

“I sense that with these improvements, passing through the Senate first, there will be the requisite votes to override the veto or to adopt new legislation with a veto-proof majority,” Harmon said.

His measure was opposed in committee by the Illinois Commerce Commission and by AARP of Illinois, which commissioned a poll that showed nearly seven out of 10 Illinoisans surveyed didn’t want to pay more on their electricity bills in exchange for improved reliability. By roughly the same margin, 73 percent of those 800 registered voters said they’d be less likely to vote for an officeholder who supported legislation that would permit a utility to raise rates annually.

“This is all stuff that doesn’t change the fundamental problems of the bill,” said Scott Musser, AARP’s associate director.

Quinn was also dismissive of the bill, saying “Unfortunately, this movie still has the same unhappy ending: blockbuster annual rate hikes for consumers and businesses.”

ComEd issued a statement, saying Harmon’s measure “deserves everyone’s serious consideration.”

“ComEd appreciates the time, energy and focus Senator Harmon and other members of the legislature have put in to making grid modernization a reality in Illinois,” the statement said.

The battle over the utility legislation is perhaps the marquee issue facing state lawmakers as they return to Springfield Tuesday to begin their six-day fall veto session, where gambling expansion, pension reforms and authorization of new speeding cameras in Chicago are on tap.

State Sen. Terry Link (D-Vernon Hills), sponsor of last spring’s gambling expansion package that Quinn has vowed to veto, said Monday he intends to present legislation containing the governor’s recommendations to the Senate for a vote on Wednesday.

While supportive of a Chicago casino and four other new casinos, Quinn wants slot machines at racetracks stripped out of the bill, which Link’s original legislation contained. Most observers believe no language to benefit racetracks will result in the collapse of any gambling expansion package.

In other action Monday, the Senate Executive Committee also advanced legislation pushed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and sponsored by Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) that would permit cameras to be posted within one-eighth of a mile of city schools, parks and colleges to help nab speeders. Lake Shore Drive is exempted from the bill.

Chicago Police Supt. Gerry McCarthy testified in favor of the legislation, which passed the panel by a 9-4 vote amid enforcement concerns raised by Republicans.

“Automated speed enforcement extends the reach of law enforcement and effectively reinforces responsible driving and compliance with driving laws,” McCarthy said.

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