Suburban worries that Metra troubles may end up giving Chicago more influence

DuPage County Chairman Dan Cronin doesn’t want the troubles with Metra to give Chicago an opportunity to grab more power over regional transit:

As Metra tries to function amid scandal, it’s essential the suburbs maintain their influence on the board, DuPage Chairman Dan Cronin warned Friday.

With state lawmakers and Gov. Pat Quinn pushing to reinvent the troubled agency, there’s a danger whatever emerges will shift the balance of power to Chicago, Cronin said.

“I’m here representing the nearly 1 million people in DuPage County,” Cronin said. “I want to make sure their voice is heard. We have to be mindful of transit needs in the suburbs.”…

Friday marked the first time the board of directors has met since its game-changing session in June when they approved a separation agreement with former CEO Alex Clifford that’s been called a golden parachute at best and “hush money” at worst…

Other fallout included the departures of Kane County appointee Mike McCoy and DuPage’s Paul Darley. McCoy, a civil engineer and former county chairman, and business owner Darley were considered independent voices on the board.

There is not much context here about Cronin’s statements. However, this statement hints at larger issues. This is part of a ongoing power struggle in the Chicago region between the city and suburban interests. There are transit needs in DuPage County including rail lines to Chicago and major highways and roads (plus a lack of mass transit to points within the county itself outside of Metra lines). And Metra is not the only flashpoint; the Regional Transit Authority is another issue. But, this could also simply be a manifestation of something many suburbanites, particularly conservatives, fear: Chicago is a power-hungry entity that can’t wait to dictate more policy to the rest of Illinois. And this may be the reason many suburbanites live there in the first-place or now justify their suburban presence: they wanted to get away from Chicago.

McMansion owners in the Chicago suburbs get cheaper ComEd rates than city-dwellers

Crain’s Chicago Business highlights an interesting part of the regulations for ComEd: a suburban homeowner pays a more advantageous rater than a city resident.

The reason: The price to reserve “capacity”—the right to buy electricity during peak-demand periods—will soar next June. That rising cost, which is embedded in the energy price on customers’ electric bills, will hit households consuming small amounts of power far harder than owners of large homes using a lot of electricity. Residents of wealthy suburbs with larger, high-consumption homes could well pay 1 to 2 cents per kilowatt-hour less for electricity than city residents.

Why? ComEd allocates the capacity charge evenly among all residential customers regardless of their usage. So the owner of a city bungalow consuming 500 kilowatt-hours per month pays the same dollar amount for capacity as the owner of a McMansion in the suburbs using three times as much. The McMansion owner’s total electric bill will be higher than the bungalow owner’s, but the McMansion owner will pay less per kilowatt-hour because the added capacity charge makes up a much smaller percentage of the total.

This disparity hasn’t been an issue to date because capacity costs have been unusually low over the past two years. But the price for capacity in PJM Interconnection—the 13-state power grid that includes northern Illinois—will rise 350 percent for the year beginning in June 2014. That will have a bigger impact on towns and cities with lots of small-usage households such as Chicago than it will on suburbs featuring larger homes…

Evidence of “have” and “have-not” municipalities already is starting to appear. Two wealthy north suburbs with many large homes, Bannockburn and Kildeer, last month locked in an energy price for their residents of just below 5 cents per kilowatt-hour for the next two years beginning in September. By contrast, under the Integrys contract, Chicago residents pay 5.42 cents, or 8 percent more. And next May, when the city must reprice the deal, it’s expected to struggle to beat a ComEd price that will approach 7 cents.

The article doesn’t answer the most basic question: how did this disparity end up in the regulations in the first place?

The article suggests that people in the city or suburbs should be paying the same electricity rate. It is only fair to pay equally. But, I wonder if some wouldn’t argue that the suburbanites who are more spread out, require more infrastructure to reach this larger area, and tend to live in bigger houses should actually be paying higher rates. Couldn’t that be written into the regulations? This may not be politically popular but I imagine the argument could be made. Indeed, using the term McMansion in comparison to the humble Chicago bungalow leans in this direction by referring to unnecessarily large homes.

Suburban mayors look for Mayor Emanuel’s help

There is often a tension between a big city and suburbs: these communities have different goals and access to resources. With a new mayor in Chicago, suburban leaders say they are looking to work with Rahm Emanuel:

But suburban leaders said Wednesday that they expect Chicago Mayor-elect Rahm Emanuel to recognize that the city he will soon lead and the surrounding communities are better off working together instead of fighting each other.

“I think, with his extensive government experience, he understands that we’re all in this together,” said Elmwood Park Village President Peter Silvestri, whose town is in Illinois’ 5th Congressional District, a seat once held by Emanuel.

Silvestri was among several leaders who also said they were hopeful that Emanuel, who has a reputation as a bare-knuckled political operative, will follow Mayor Richard Daley’s collaborative lead…

Among them is Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson, who fought bitterly with Daley over the expansion of O’Hare. He said he hoped Emanuel “will respect the concerns of his neighbor and work regionally.”

Emanuel supports  a Chicago casino, an idea that hasn’t gone over well in Des Plaines, which will soon open a casino of its own…

Naperville Mayor George Pradel was another suburban leader who said he hoped Emanuel would maintain a strong relationship with his suburban counterparts.

The Chicago mayor has influence on several issues that concern Naperville, including ongoing plans to build a western bypass around O’Hare and rates for Lake Michigan water, Pradel said. Naperville is the largest suburban user of water from the lake.

As a congressman, Emanuel supported an airport in south suburban Peotone and he has voiced support for extending the CTA’s Red Line to 130th Street — two important issues in the south suburbs.

Perhaps these suburban leaders do want to work with Emanuel but to me, it sounds like they are more interested in getting Emanuel’s support for their interests and projects. Perhaps Emanuel could ask these suburban leaders: and if I help you, how does your suburb plan to help the City of Chicago or the larger Chicago region?

This may be a cynical interpretation but this is the long-running history of suburban communities: many are not interested in regional or metropolitan issues except when they might threaten the quality of life in their immediate community. Going back to the 1890s and 1900s, suburbs stopped wanting to be annexed into the big city as they could provide their own basic services (water, sewers, electricity, etc.) and didn’t want to associate with cities which were seen as dirty and crime-ridden. Today, suburbs thrive on this idea of local rule: local taxes should go into local services, such as public school districts and basic local services such as police and fire. Local or regional projects are often judged on how particular suburban communities will benefit, particularly as it pertains to their tax base and property values.

In the long run, how many of these suburban communities are willing to help Mayor Emanuel?