12/8/16 - ST. LOUIS POST DISPATCH EDITORIAL: Illinois government finally gets something done: a utility bailout

By: POST DISPATCH EDITORIAL BOARD

Even for a state noted for its political dysfunction, what happened in the Illinois Legislature last week was breathtakingly twisted. On Dec. 1, the last day of the lame duck fall session, the lawmakers left pension systems teetering, and the state budget cratering while, on their way out the door, they handed a 10-year, $2.35 billion rate bailout to Exelon Corp. to preserve 1,500 jobs at two money-losing nuclear power plants. Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner signed it Wednesday.

Democrats and Republicans alike are to blame. The leverage was the jobs that would have been lost in the Quad Cities and Clinton if the plants closed. Rauner wanted to save them. So did union-backed Democrats who run the House and Senate. It will only cost Illinois electric customers $156,666 per year, per job, to save them.

Exelon says that’s only 25 cents a month for the average customer of its Commonwealth Edison subsidiary. Consumer groups say it will be more than $4 a month. Either way, customers get $400 million worth of energy efficiency programs in the bargain. Downstate customers of Ameren Illinois, who share the power generated by the nuclear plants, will see rates go up 12 cents a month initially, rising to 35 cents by 2030.

Some environmental groups like the deal. The carbon costs of nuclear energy are next to zero, an important consideration in an age of global warming. Whether that consideration will still matter after President-elect Donald Trump and the Republican Congress get finished dismantling the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan is an open question.

more expensive version of Exelon’s bailout failed last spring. It might have failed again except both the governor and the legislative Democrats needed a win. This bewildered one lawmaker, Rep. Sam Yingling, D-Grayslake, who pleaded:

“What are we doing, you guys? What are we doing listening to this bill? We don’t have a budget and our so-called stopgap budget is just weeks away from expiring. Instead, we are talking about a multibillion-dollar corporate bailout for one of the most profitable energy companies in the state.”

True, but in Illinois, irrelevant. Pension systems for Chicago teachers and state employees are stressed. The state’s credit rating has tanked. It is $100 billion in debt, has $7 billion in unpaid bills and is operating on a stopgap budget that expires Dec. 31. The agencies that take care of the state’s most vulnerable citizens haven’t been paid. State universities are worried about making severe cuts.

January will mark two years since Rauner took office, vowing to bring irresistible force against the Democratic Legislature. But he met an immovable object in House Speaker Mike Madigan. Unless you’re a $29.4 billion corporation holding 1,500 union jobs hostage, the stalemate shows no signs of abating.