A proposal to sell the electricity bills of about 800,000 Connecticut residents to bring in $80 million for the state budget is dead.
The proposal, which was opposed by about 55 rank-and-file Democratic lawmakers in the House, was pulled from the $43.8 billion, two-year state budget being negotiated behind closed doors. Lawmakers cheered its defeat from inside the Democratic caucus room around midnight.
Rep. Claire Janowski, D-Vernon, the main sponsor of an amendment to eliminate it, said she’s happy that leadership and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration were able to reach a solution that will benefit consumers.
Janowski and Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Lakeville, had been working behind-the-scenes to defeat the proposal for days as the Malloy administration and lobbyists for competitive suppliers sought to add consumer protections to win over lawmakers.
Willis kissed Mark Ojakian, Malloy’s chief of staff, after delivering him the news.
Ojakian was a good sport about the defeat. He said that even though he thought it made a lot a sense and was good public policy, it was clear a lot of people did not share that view.
With an $80 million hole left in the state budget from the removal of the proposal, Ojakian said they are looking at a variety of other options. He declined to specify exactly how the money would be made up, but said it won’t be made up with any additional taxes.
Rep. Patricia Widlitz, co-chairwoman of the Finance Committee, also declined to offer any specifics. “I was told not to talk about it,” she said.
Sen. John Fonfara, co-chairman of the Finance Committee, said they’ve been looking at about eight options as they felt support for the electricity auction slipping away. He said there was a moment Friday where they felt the auction might be resuscitated, but it was fleeting.
The Senate Democratic caucus seemed to be on board with the new proposals as long as the consumer protections were included, but about 55 Democratic lawmakers were not on board. The Republican minority was ready to join them to defeat the proposal.
Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, was one of the lawmakers to sign onto Janowski’s amendment. Urban also encouraged other lawmakers to oppose the auction.
She said she can already see the campaign slogans against any state representative who votes in favor of the auction: “Rep. So-and-So Sold Your Electricity Bill To The Energy Company.”
AARP Advocacy Director John Erlingheuser said the policy allowing the auction is so “gray” that lawmakers are trying to build a 40-foot wall around it with all these consumer protections and people have to start asking why.
He said there’s nothing in the drafts of the bill he’s seen to prevent one competitive supplier from winning all the bids. He said there’s also no money in the bill to help hire more workers in the Public Utility Regulatory Authority complaint department to field all the calls from confused consumers.
He said there’s not enough consumer protections in the world to cause him to support the auction.