Lawmakers Back Bills On Water Utility

Alpha Media/ Ryan Piers

State Senator Chuck Weaver and State Rep. Ryan Spain are campaigning for bills that deal with the ownership of local water.

One of them calls for more transparency from Illinois American Water. The other would help ensure the local price of water represents true, market value.

“These bills deal with how ownership happens,” Weaver said at a Thursday press conference. “Illinois American Water Company has extremely strong lobbyists and they are blocking these bills.”

“We are calling on Illinois American Water to remove opposition from these bills,” Spain said.

Senate Bill 1536 and House Bill 462 is being dubbed the “transparency bill,” and will give customers and communities information about the revenues and expenses of their water systems.

Weaver argues moving from a private owned water company to city owned one leads to better record keeping. He stated private water company is also allowed to purchase local water systems, which are paid for by existing zones; a poor practice according to Weaver. Weaver also says the legislation leads to more transparency.

“We believe our citizens must look at numbers…to understand what Illinois American Water is charging,” Weaver said.

Senate bill 1537/ House bill 463 is the second bill supported by the political pair. It’s known as the “Appraisal Bill” and would prevent appraisals that increase the value of water utility because the buyer is a unit of government. It would help ensure appraisals represent true, fair market values, according to Spain.

“This is a bill that corrects the unfair practices that is place on public entities that results in unfair appraisals that drive up costs,” Spain said.

Spain says the debate about whether or not Peoria’s water utility should be publically or privately owned has been taking place for decades.

But multiple local studies, one conducted by the local chapter of the League of Women voters and the other by Peoria’s CEO Council have buoyed the push for the two pieces of regulation.

The LWVGP examined the merits of public vs. private ownership in the area’s water supply in early 2016. An eight-person study group then recommended the LWVGP stand behind the purchase of the water utility.

Peoria’s CEO Council studied the financial merits of public ownership of the water franchise for a couple years. A final report indicates Peorians pay more than similar communities for water and public ownership could pay for itself through water revenues.

Representatives from both groups were at the press conference.

Illinois American Water spokesperson, Karen Cotton, responded to the lawmakers’ statements:

“Illinois American Water supports transparency and disclosure. We currently produce an annual report that is descriptive and detailed. It’s about 200 pages in length. Our financial reporting is similar to that of other utilities. It provides everything requested in this bill for our state operation. These bills would place unnecessary costs on consumers and it is related for the purpose of government takeover of our company that does not want to be sold. We have a good working relationship with Peoria and we value that. We have a contract with the City of Peoria for 130 years. We’ve provided information to the City numerous times in the past. There is not a need to try to impose new terms on the relationship through unilateral legislation rather than negotiation. I think our leaders in Springfield have more important things to worry about rather than promoting a government takeover.”

On the topic of Weaver’s claim that Illinois American Water is using lobbyists to block the bills, Cotton said, “Organizations such as AFL-CIO, the Illinois Chamber and Illinois Manufacturers Association agree with us that these are bad bills.”

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