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Senate hits Quinn on ComEd bill, Madigan goes after his no lay-off pledge

Illinois Gov. PQuinn speaks with reporters his office Illinois State Capitol Tuesday Oct. 25 2011 Springfield Ill. An ambitious fall

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn speaks with reporters in his office at the Illinois State Capitol Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011 in Springfield, Ill. An ambitious fall veto session is under way at the Illinois Capitol and Quinn says proposed changes haven't weakened his opposition to legislation that would raise electricity rates. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

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Updated: January 23, 2012 4:02AM

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn took it squarely on the chin Tuesday, losing an important Senate vote on utility rate-hike legislation and getting a public rebuke from House Speaker Michael Madigan over his campaign pledge last fall not to lay off state workers.

The Illinois Senate torpedoed what had been the governor’s No. 1 priority in the fall veto session, voting 37-10 to approve legislation sought by Commonwealth Edison that was part of a $2.6 billion rate-increase package.

The margin signals that senators have the votes to override Quinn’s veto of the main package.Shortly before Tuesday’s vote, the governor appeared before reporters, churning out sound bite after sound bite in a furious tirade against the utility company and rank-and-file legislators who pocketed its campaign contributions.

“There’s no way to put perfume on this skunk, and that’s what it is,” the governor said, referring to the legislation sponsored by Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) that won Senate backing a short time later.

The governor derided ComEd’s so-called “smart-grid” legislation as a “smart-greed” bill and condemned “legislators with three loaves of bread under each arm, all the campaign donations they’ve gotten from the utility companies.”

“It’s harmful to the public and the public interest,” the governor said.

Harmon’s package, meant to add consumer-friendly improvements to the earlier rate-hike bill Quinn vetoed and lawmakers want to override, would require ComEd to invest an equal amount in “smart-grid” modernizations and storm-proofing of its existing electricity transmission system.

The bill also establishes a $60 million fund to help needy ratepayers pay their utility bills and ties Commonwealth Edison’s annual profit margin during the next decade to treasury yields, which are at historic lows. Harmon said his plan would limit ComEd’s return on equity to 9.7 percent in the first year and to returns in the 8-percent to 9-percent range in following years.

“I’d tell you there’s nothing in the trailer bill that’s controversial or bad for consumers,” Harmon told the Senate.

The 37-10 Senate vote — 36 votes were needed for passage — means backers of ComEd likely have the votes to override Quinn’s veto of a related measure passed in May that would increase average residential electricity bills by about $3 per month.

Meanwhile, Madigan introduced a resolution that would empower the Legislature to have input into raises that may be part of upcoming collective-bargaining talks between Quinn’s administration and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

In a jab at Quinn, Madigan’s measure also states that no-layoff pledges, like the governor’s “side agreement with AFSCME,” can’t be part of collective-bargaining discussions.

“Gov. Quinn gave that away. I don’t think he should do that, and that’s why we recite in this resolution that should not be done,” said Madigan, chairman of the state Democratic Party.

On another legislative front, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) said a measure incorporating Quinn’s “framework” for gambling expansion will surface this week in the Senate, though it is widely expected to fail.

Backers of gambling expansion want to show the governor that his insistence that slot machines at racetracks be scuttled will mean no expansion, including a casino for Chicago, can take place.

Quinn reacted sarcastically to the maneuver, saying, “We don’t need any charades.”

The governor goaded Cullerton to remove the parliamentary hold on the legislation that passed in May that authorizes five new casinos and slot machines at racetracks and that Quinn has said he’ll veto.

“They passed this masterpiece on May 31. Bring it on,” Quinn said. “Make my day.”

Also Tuesday, a $66 million tax-incentive package Cullerton is drafting for Chicago’s financial exchanges, which have threatened to move because of this year’s income-tax hike, stalled amid GOP opposition.

Republicans don’t believe enough attention is being paid to the financial needs of small- and medium-sized businesses. The Senate president said negotiations are continuing.

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