Making Our Voice Heard in Washington, D.C.

By Tom Bruhl, Electric Services Division Manager, tbruhl@stcharlesil.gov

Recently, the American Public Power Association (APPA) sponsored a trip to Washington, D.C. Mayor Ray and I had the honor of meeting with Senator Duckworth and Representatives Hultgren and Roskam to discuss what they could do for St. Charles at the federal level with respect to our municipal electric utility. We were so thankful that these elected Congress leaders took time to talk with us. It was a great honor for me to be able to personally thank Senator Duckworth for her service and sacrifice for our country.

Our power supplier, the Illinois Municipal Electric Agency (IMEA), beyond paying for the trip, took care of logistics, scheduled our meetings, and helped us with the background and communication points on the issues.

IMEA was not able to schedule a meeting with Representative Roskam due to how busy his schedule was. But they were able to schedule to talk with one of his key staffers. While waiting in the lobby of his office, Representative Roskam spotted Ray and invited us into his office for a few quick minutes between his other meetings. Had Mayor Ray not been there, we wouldn’t have gotten to quickly share our concerns directly and make that personal contact with him. I was impressed with how important and influential Mayor Ray is.

In the meetings, we discussed the importance of defending tax-exempt status of municipal bonds. There is a real concern regarding the possible elimination of tax-free municipal bond interest. As it was explained to us, as Congress looks at tax reform and reducing personal and corporation taxes, there has to be an increase in revenue from somewhere. Other possible sources, like getting rid of the mortgage interest deduction or the charitable donation deduction will be very politically unpopular. But some falsely believe that municipal bonds are only held by rich investors and that they would be the only ones hurt by eliminating the tax-free income they provide. To the contrary, a lot of people rely on the steady, secure, tax-free interest from municipal bonds.

Eliminating the tax-free interest from municipal bonds also increases the cost to municipalities when we need to borrow money, which hurts all of our citizens. Due to the tax exempt status, the City gets a lower interest rate than normal bonds, which has saved the City over $4,000,000 in interest costs for City projects in the last 5 years alone.  Representative Hultgren has been a champion in Washington on this issue and APPA recognized him for such. It was awesome to have our Representative be such a leader on an issue that is so important to us and others nationwide.

We also asked all we met with to keep us in mind for any grant opportunities as we look at building a new Police Station.

We discussed with them that we have heard that the Federal Power Act of 1935 may be reviewed, and expressed our interest in maintaining our right to “self-supply.” We are a municipal electric utility without a generating station in the City, and we rely on getting power from plants in downstate Illinois and Kentucky. We were thankful that all three understood that we were asking the Federal Government to “do no harm.”

I think Mayor Ray made a very powerful statement in a discussion with Senator Duckworth when he reflected that within the State of Illinois, municipalities have our house in order. We welcome the help the Federal Government can offer to us as we work on behalf of our citizens and businesses, and ask that they are careful to do no harm to our abilities at a federal level.

For me, this opportunity reinvigorated faith in our system and the fact that officials that we have elected to represent us in the Federal Government are working in our best interest, and are very giving of their time to listen and understand our concerns. What you see in a 30 second news clip about these people should not be how you judge them. There is something very powerful in making human contact with people you know only through the news, and through such contact you gain newfound respect and appreciation for how they are serving us.

I feel strongly about being a navigator instead of a victim. And through our efforts during this week, I feel good about doing what we could to make our St. Charles concerns known at the federal level.

Photos from the event are here https://www.flickr.com/photos/stcharlesil/albums/72157678598061333.