The Texas Senate passed a measure by a vote of 21-10 that would cut one time $120 checks to eligible ratepayers in the state. The money would come from the state’s System Benefit Fund.
The fund is intended as a way to build a pool of money to be used to assist low income people who need help paying their electricity bills.
Since it’s creation in 1999 ratepayers have paid a surcharge of up to 65 cents per kilowatt hour on their electric bills that goes towards the fund. Over the years the program has paid out far less money than it has taken in resulting in a surplus of about $850 million.
In 2012, the Lite-Up program, which assists low income households with their electric bills, paid out around $60 million. The System Benefit Fund collected more than twice that amount in surcharges. The extra money has been treated like general funds in the state’s coffers and used to balance the state’s budget.
As lawmakers look for ways to reduce taxes in the state, many see returning the surplus from the System Benefit Fund as an easy way to return money to the citizenry. But, the move is not without controversy. Some people see the move as taking away money from lower income people. For the most part, the debate is split along part lines with Republicans backing the plan.
The State Senate’s action alone would not be enough to pass the measure into law. Before checks can be cut, a 2/3 majority vote would be required in both the house and senate to send the proposal to voters. Voters would then have to approve it as an amendment to the state’s constitution.
Only residential and commercial electricity clients in the so called “Power to Choose” or deregulated parts of the state would be eligible for the rebate. This includes the Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston areas.