Metro-East News

Rauner changes 911 funding bill, takes out surcharge increases

Telecommunicator Jared Runyan and others work in the new 911 call center in O’Fallon. All 911 call centers in Illinois were subject to a state law requiring consolidation. Madison County has still not completed consolidation as its emergency management neighbors to the south in St. Clair County claim Madison County's plan skirts the law.
Telecommunicator Jared Runyan and others work in the new 911 call center in O’Fallon. All 911 call centers in Illinois were subject to a state law requiring consolidation. Madison County has still not completed consolidation as its emergency management neighbors to the south in St. Clair County claim Madison County's plan skirts the law. dholtmann@bnd.com

Gov. Bruce Rauner issued an amendatory veto on the 911 reauthorization legislation and removed telephone bill surcharge increases. But 911 funding will continue at current levels, the governor’s office said.

The Emergency Telephone Act is set to expire Saturday.

The House voted 81-27, and the Senate voted 53-3, both in favor of the bill, and included an increase to the monthly surcharge that each phone-owner pays from 87 cents to $1.50. The Chicago surcharge was proposed to increase from $3.90 to $5. The surcharge keeps 911 centers running, as they don’t receive any funding from the state.

“The majority in the General Assembly waited until the last moment to send this 911 service reauthorization bill to my desk. Unfortunately, those lawmakers also inserted a major tax hike into this bill, a tax that’s both excessive and unwarranted, and that I strongly oppose,” Rauner said in a news release. “This extreme increase is unfair and indefensible. But the majority in the General Assembly is using the threat of cancellation of 9-1-1 services on Saturday as leverage to force this tax hike through over my opposition.”

With the amendatory veto, the General Assembly can either do nothing, and let the legislation die; it can override the veto with a three-fifths majority in each chamber; or it can agree to the changes with a simple majority in both chambers.

In Rauner’s action, the governor also removed the sunsets on the Emergency Telephone System Act and the sections regarding telecommunications and cable and video in the Public Utilities Act. These changes mean 911 service would continue in Illinois without the General Assembly having to pass legislation to renew the service, the governor’s office said.

“This mean-spirited strategy has been employed by the majority repeatedly over the years, most prominently in the current budget impasse: holding innocent people, our most vulnerable residents and essential services hostage as leverage to force excessive, unwarranted tax hikes onto the people of Illinois,” Rauner said. “This practice must stop.”

Herb Simmons, the executive director of the St. Clair County Emergency Telephone System Board, said he was happy to see funding continue for the 911 system.

“I’m glad to see the 911 (funding) is going to continue status quo,” Simmons said.

He added he would be back in Springfield to see if there will be an override of the veto.

Simmons said the extra money from an increased surcharge would help to add the capability to accept text-messaging and videos through the 911 system.

“If the increase is going to pass, that helps sustain what we need to get done for these mandates the federal government is putting on us,” Simmons said. “The amount of surcharge we get now is not going to cover that cost.”

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