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Utility-backed bill affects Kankakee area

May 30, 2018 GMT

dgiuliani@daily-journal.com

A bill that would allow private water utilities to charge customers more for the costs of acquiring new systems has passed both houses of the Legislature.

The bill could have an effect on the Kankakee area, much of which is served by a private water utility, Kankakee-based Aqua Illinois.

Nearly two weeks ago, the bill sailed through the Senate 39-6. That was about a month after it passed the House 69-37. The passage of the bill generated little, if any, media scrutiny. The bill is headed to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Both Rep. Lindsay Parkhurst, R-Kankakee, and Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, whose district includes Kankakee, voted for the legislation.

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Five days after her vote, Hutchinson received $1,000 from Aqua Illinois, the only such donation after the Senate acted.

Opponents of the legislation said existing ratepayers should not have to foot the bills for private utility expansions. But Aqua argued the measure would promote greater efficiency, helping keep rates down.

A diverse coalition supported the legislation, House Bill 4508, including unions and business groups such as the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.

The opponents were led by the Citizens Utility Board, a consumer watchdog group that tracks issues involving utilities, which contended the bill would place the entire costs of expansions on the backs of existing customers.

Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, distributed a statement earlier this month that echoed the citizens group’s arguments. Only five of her colleagues — all Republicans — joined her in opposition.

Aqua Illinois said the bill would benefit its customer base.

For instance, Aqua’s water treatment plant in Kankakee serves towns in the area.

With more customers helping pay for the facility, costs are lower per water user, said Craig Blanchette, Aqua Illinois’ president.