Rauner threatens to reject 911 funding bill over fee hikes

Bill had bipartisan support in the Assembly, but the governor says he’ll shoot it down

By Sophia Tareen 
Associated Press

CHICAGO — Gov. Bruce Rauner has threatened to reject a plan extending the funding mechanism for Illinois’ 911 call centers, saying proposed fee increases are too steep and the plan is loaded with other things.

The Republican’s administration issued a memo Thursday to a statewide 911 administrator saying the hikes are “unacceptable,” while warning of consequences if lawmakers don’t send him a “clean” extension bill before July 1, when the current plan sunsets. Without legislation, Illinois won’t be able to collect and distribute fees to fund 911 services in Illinois.

“The General Assembly should not put the 911 system at risk by sending the governor legislation with poison pills knowing full well he will not sign them into law,” read the memo from Jason Heffley, Rauner’s policy adviser for energy and environment. “There is time left to send the governor a clean 911 bill.”

It was immediately unclear when services might be cut off without funding. A message to Illinois State Police, which distributes the 911 money collected by phone carriers, wasn’t immediate returned Friday.

The proposal seeks to raise the surcharge in Chicago from $3.90 to $5 and from 87 cents to $1.50 elsewhere in Illinois. Democratic state Sen. Bill Cunningham, a bill sponsor from Chicago, said the fees help 911 centers who’ve lost funds over time with more people dropping landline service. Chicago officials say the new funds, which require City Council approval, would be used to modernize 911 operations.

The memo doesn’t outline specific changes or new suggested fees, but does note a 911 advisory board had recommended a $1.05 statewide fee.

Among other things, the plan also lets AT&T disconnect traditional landlines in Illinois, allowing the utility giant to free itself from a legal obligation to provide landline service in areas with old technology. AT&T says about 90 percent of its customers have already dropped landlines for wireless technology or internet-based communication and the plan would allow more investment in modernization. Opponents, including AARP Illinois, say landlines are vital for older residents and estimate 1.2 million people would be affected.

Sponsors of the plan said Friday that they’re discussing options if Rauner vetoes the bill, which had bipartisan support in the Legislature.

Lawmakers tasked with ending the state’s budget impasse are currently meeting in special session. If they don’t reach agreement before July 1, Illinois will enter a third straight year without a spending plan.

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