* Illinois utility ratepayers pay an extra surcharge on their monthly bills to help pay for energy assistance for the poor, like their heating bills. And last week, during one of the coldest weeks of the year, Gov. Rauner proposed taking that utility surcharge money and using it for the General Revenue Fund…
Trouble is, Rauner can’t just grab the money. State law requires utilities like Commonwealth Edison, Nicor Gas and Peoples Gas, which collect the funds, to use them for the intended purposes or reimburse ratepayers. So Rauner will need a change in those laws to shift the utility-collected funds to the state’s general fund. A spokeswoman confirms he will propose just such a change. […]
Striking in any case is the fact that an Illinois governor has proposed, in effect, to transform utility-bill payments aimed at helping the most disadvantaged into a state tax stream.
The Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, or LIHEAP, is a federally funded pool of money that in Illinois generally is distributed each winter to needy households to keep current on their bills and prevent gas shutoffs when April comes around. The funds generated through the utility surcharges add another 50 percent to the money available when combined with the federal allocation. For Illinoisans in the current fiscal year, the utility surcharges for LIHEAP generated $165 million, according to the governor’s budget document.
The LIHEAP changes Rauner proposes affect only the state’s contribution to that program, not the $330 million that Illinois gets from the federal government for low-income heating help.
“To close a $6 billion budget deficit and address years of fiscal mismanagement, the governor’s budget brings Illinois in line with 20 other states that use only federal dollars to fund the program,” a Rauner spokeswoman says in a statement. “Illinois households that need help paying utility bills will continue receiving subsidies. As in the past, the state will work to make sure that subsidies go to those most in need.”