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Springfield… Early this month, Gov. Bruce Rauner issued his 14th executive order to create the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform. State Representatives John Cabello (R-Machesney Park) and Brian Stewart (R-Freeport) were tasked with representing the House Republican Caucus on the commission.

“We a have problem that deserves our full attention and I am confident this is the right step toward taking action,” said Rep. Cabello. “As the Republican Spokesperson for Judiciary-Criminal and 20 years of service in law enforcement, I believe my experience will help bring some new ideas to the commission. We have some serious issues to tackle and I look forward to getting started right away.”

The commission will be tasked with conducting a comprehensive review of the State’s current criminal justice and sentencing structure, sentencing practices, community supervision, and the use of the alternatives to incarceration.

“Recidivism in Illinois is dangerously high,” said Rep. Stewart. “48 percent of adult inmates and 53 percent of juveniles released from incarceration return within three years. This statistic should be shocking, but unfortunately it is a reality that we must address. As a former law enforcement officer, I understand this is going to be a challenge. However, Gov. Rauner’s swift action to create this commission could be the remedy to solving this vital issue.”

Imprisonment is Illinois’ most expensive form of criminal punishment. Taxpayers spend $1.3 billion on the Department of Corrections and $131 million on the Department of Juvenile Justice each year.  
Last week, Governor Bruce Rauner delivered his first annual budget address.  I believe we can all agree that it’s not perfect, but it illustrates the financial instability our State faces.  As a state, we need to live within our means as we work to pass a bi-partisan budget that will trend toward a much more stable spending environment.

The budget for fiscal year 2016 (FY16) presented by the Governor contains many challenges to traditional spending patterns in Springfield.  The Governor imposed serious cuts on a wide variety of expenditures, especially in areas covered by General Revenue Fund spending ($31.5 billion).  The Governor says Illinois taxation and spending has, for too long, been on autopilot and that he was elected to pull the State’s government out of a death spiral.

The State’s budgetary challenges are no secret, but under Gov. Rauner, these challenges are actually being acknowledged.  For the first time in a decade, the Governor and the General Assembly are starting the budgetary process grounded in the reality of matching revenues with expenditures while paying our required obligations.  He has set a revenue estimate of $32 billion with a clear directive to make that number work. 

The Governor’s introduced FY16 budget is sobering, but it  is built on several core priorities: public safety, education and paying our bills.  The General Assembly is beginning to review this budget and its impact on Illinoisans and will soon be making recommendations as to our shared priorities.  We face hard times ahead of us, but in the end, we must do what it takes to turn Illinois around.

It was a busy week in Springfield.  Along with a full schedule of committee meetings and General Assembly sessions, we were able to pass a bill that I sponsored, Scott’s Law Day HB246.  This bill designates December 23 of every year as a day to honor our public safety workers and to remind drivers throughout the State to slow down and watch for emergency vehicles parked alongside the road.  Scott’s Law was originally enacted in 2002 after Lt. Scott Gillen of the Chicago Fire Department was struck and killed on December 23, 2000 along the Dan Ryan Expressway when a motorist recklessly drove through an accident scene at which Lt. Gillen was assisting.  This legislation commemorates the date to remember the sacrifice of Lt. Scott Gillen and all public safety workers.  Let’s not endanger the individuals who dedicate their lives to protecting us.

I was also pleased to see a strong show of support by our local Farm Bureau members this past Wednesday at the Illinois Farm Bureau event.  I am working to make agriculture and agribusiness a legislative priority in Springfield, and I’m thankful that individuals from our region take the time away from their businesses and farms to lobby for an industry that is at the heart of our region’s economy.


In conclusion, I wanted to take the opportunity to congratulate the Dakota High School wrestling team.  They accomplished a remarkable feat by returning home with six state titles in Class 1A, the most ever won by the program in one season.  Congratulations to the coaching staff and wrestlers for their hard work and determination that led to six State Champions.  Those Champions are Carver James, J.J. Wolfe, Alec Henze, Printice Walls, Nathan Olsen, and Greg Krulas.  In the words of Harry S. Truman, “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.” Our Dakota wrestling team exemplifies that American courage, imagination and unbeatable determination.  Way to go, team.
Last week in Springfield, we were given our committee assignments.  For the 99th General Assembly, I will serve on the Agriculture & Conservation, Appropriations-Public Safety, Human Services, Judiciary-Criminal, Labor & Commerce, Revenue & Finance, and Veterans’ Affairs.  I believe the array of committee assignments represents the interests of the 89th district, as well as taps my unique experience as a State Representative.  I served in the Army (Veteran’s Affairs); I am retired Stephenson County Sheriff’s Sergeant (Judiciary-Criminal); I run several small businesses (Labor & Commerce and Revenue & Finance); and I’ve worked to create strong ties to the agriculture leaders and industry, so I can represent our farmers and agri-business well.  Human Services will allow me to assist in providing services to those in our region with disabilities and to families in need.  Appropriations-Public Safety maintains purview over the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Illinois State Police, and I will continue to bang the drum for another 25 years, if necessary, about Highway 20 and other road projects.
In recent days, Illinois has seen what it looks like when a politician keeps his word.  Whether you agree with him or not, you can trust that the Governor will do what he says he will.  Governor Rauner stated in his State of the State Address that his goal was to make Illinois the most competitive and compassionate state in America. 
Two examples:
Governor Rauner established the Local Government Consolidation and Unfunded Mandate Task Force of which Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti will be Chair.  Illinois leads the nation with nearly 7,000 units of local government, which is higher by 1,800 more than any other State.  Some of these unnecessary layers of government are why hardworking families end up paying some of the highest property taxes in the nation.  Illinois shares more than $6 billion in revenue with local governments but imposes more than 280 state-imposed unfunded mandates on local governments which costs our communities billions.  
Illinois has 905 school and community college districts, the 3rd highest in the country and Illinois school districts have had at least 140 unfunded mandates since 2000.  Now, not all mandates are bad, some can save taxpayer dollars or help provide better services, but that is exactly what this task force will be looking into.  Streamlining local government functions and school districts will help reduce costs and freeing local government from unfunded mandates imposed by the state will save local taxpayers money.  Every dollar saved through this Task Force process adds up and ultimately goes back into the taxpayers’ pocket.
Governor Rauner also explained in his State of the State Address that he plans to reform the criminal justice system, and, on Wednesday of this past week, he started the process of doing just that by creating the Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform.  The commission will examine the current criminal justice system and sentencing structure to develop comprehensive and evidence-based strategies to improve public safety.  The commission is responsible for recommendations to the Governor that will effectively improve public safety outcomes and reduce the prison population by 25% by the year 2025.  I was honored to be asked by the Governor to serve as a member of this commission.
While I know that some in our district will disagree with the Governor’s recent actions, I believe all of us can respect a Governor who acts on his promises. “There are many qualities that make a great leader,” says Rudy Guiliani. “But having strong beliefs, being able to stick with them through popular and unpopular times, is the most important characteristic of a great leader.” Our state and country need more of that kind of leadership.


As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or email us at repstewart@gmail.com. You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.
On Wednesday, Governor Rauner gave his inaugural State of the State address, reiterating issues we heard during the campaign from entrenched politicians and from the news media. The numerous rehashings have done nothing to solve our mess.  On Wednesday, however, we heard for the first time in a long time a solid plan to bring back Illinois.

Illinois, according to the Governor, is on an “unsustainable path” that “raising taxes alone” won’t fix.  Some of the challenges the State faces are high workers’ compensation rates (7th highest in the nation) and unemployment taxes (9th highest in the nation).  In both workers’ comp and in unemployment costs, we fall far behind our surrounding Midwestern states.  Additionally, the State tax code is outdated with an unfair tax burden on the middle class and on small businesses.

Our median household income is still below its 1999 level, and longtime Illinois residents looking for employment and competitive pay are moving elsewhere.  Since 2003, Illinois has had a negative net migration of 277,725 people while the states surrounding us have had positive net migrations.  If each of those 277,725 Illinois residents had stayed and paid a mere $500 in taxes, the State would have had $138 million extra a year to work with.  Not only are Illinois residents leaving, but so are businesses—we rank #48 in business friendliness.

On Wednesday, Governor Rauner presented a concrete plan to address the obstacles to growth in our State, a plan that can be summed up in a word that he uses throughout his address: empowerment.

He plans to empower local government by giving them more control by providing them with the tools they need to freeze local property taxes.  Illinois outranks surrounding states’ property tax rates, which have more than doubled since the 1980s.  Locally, Winnebago County ranks #1 and Stephenson County ranks #2 in property taxes in Illinois.

He plans to empower public employees by giving them the right to choose if they want to join a union, which, in turn will increase jobs, increase economic activity, and generate more tax dollars.

He plans to empower the middleclass and small businesses by reforming the outdated tax code, introducing sales taxes on more services to spread out the tax burden.

He plans to empower voters by introducing term limits for government officials and by eliminating political wheeling and dealing.  On the Governor’s agenda is a plan to ensure that government unions are not “allowed to influence the public officials they are lobbying and sitting across the bargaining table from through campaign donations and expenditures.”

He plans to empower the State to save more money by merging the Comptroller’s office with the Treasurer’s, saving the State $12 million annually.

He plans to empower offenders by continuing to invest in Adult Redeploy, a program that gives non-violent offenders a chance to redirect their lives through community programs instead of incarceration.

He plans to empower students by increasing education funding, investing in vocational training, and promoting school choice and charter schools.

Governor Rauner offers real solutions to problems that have plagued Illinois for years.  For those plans to become a reality, however, politicians from both sides of the aisle will have to put aside party politics and work together to promote change.

I want to close with a quote from Peggy Noonan, Ronald Reagan’s speechwriter, that, while a bit lengthy, sums up the needs of the State well: “What we need most right now, at this moment, is a kind of patriotic grace - a grace that takes the long view, apprehends the moment we're in, comes up with ways of dealing with it, and eschews the politically cheap and manipulative. That admits affection and respect. That encourages them. That acknowledges that the small things that divide us are not worthy of the moment; that agrees that the things that can be done to ease the stresses we feel as a nation should be encouraged, while those that encourage our cohesion as a nation should be supported.” 

For far too long, Illinois has been damaged by manipulative party politics.  The divided government the people of Illinois voted into office in November of last year could quickly denigrate into more of the same.  It’s time to promote a culture of appropriate change, to encourage affection and respect, to focus on the essentials, and to lend each other patriotic grace.
I would appreciate hearing your thoughts on the Governor’s State of the State and on the issues facing Illinois.  Join the conversation on my Facebook or Twitter pages.

As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or email us at repstewart@gmail.com. You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.
Springfield… Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner gave his first State of the State Address to Illinois’ General Assembly today. State Representative Brian Stewart (R-Freeport) released the following statement in reaction to the address…

“Governor Rauner made it clear that Illinois has many difficult challenges ahead. However, he outlined a promising plan to create jobs and provided solutions to get the economy thriving again through commonsense reforms. His plan to freeze property taxes would provide much needed relief to Illinois’ hardworking taxpayers.

“He wants to merge the offices of comptroller and the treasurer, which would save taxpayers more than $12 million annually. Furthermore, the Governor wants to make Illinois more competitive with other neighboring States. Worker’s comp and liability costs in Illinois rank among the worst in the nation and I agree with Governor Rauner that we need to reform those concerns.

“Overall, he addressed the problems we have known about for the last decade, but he is the first Governor to offer real solutions. I look forward to hearing his budget address in two weeks and I would expect there to be more specifics.”
I am not much of a gambler.  I do run small businesses, but those are carefully built service and risk plans and are not at all similar to pulling the lever to see if I get a payout – like video gambling machines around town. And while I advocate wise financial choices, I don’t believe in unsolicited financial advice and would never tell anyone how to spend their hard-earned money.

However, it seems that our State would. Previously, I wrote about the Secure Choice Savings Plan that automatically enrolls employees into a privately-run investment fund.  I believe a program that tells our citizens what to do with their money is an overreach of government. Each individual or family knows their financial situation and priorities better than the government and should be given the option to choose how to save or how to not save their money. What if that 3% taken from a paycheck meant the difference between paying or not paying for the utilities or mortgage this month?  Our citizens realize that saving for retirement is important and didn’t need the state to tell them that.

The State also provides another way for unsuspecting citizens to spend their money: video game gambling. While it is not a forced expense by the State, we all know that it was legalized as yet another method to increase revenue. And for many of our area residents, it has become an addicting pastime. Here’s how I know that: in the City of Freeport alone, $50 million dollars were “played” in video game gambling, according to articles featured in both The Journal Standard and The Rockford Register Star, generating over $206,000 in tax revenue in 2014.

And by played, I mean wagered; let us not get confused by the softer, spin language.  I have not yet figured out how to solve my internal struggle with the financial straits Illinois finds itself in, the interesting methods Illinois finds of creating tax revenue, and the presence of video gaming in our communities. Simply, I need your input.

My first point is that not all of the $50 million came from the pockets of Freeport citizens.  I’m sure there were out-of-district dollars that stopped into Freeport to support our community and the businesses that have the video gambling machines.  I don’t know what percentage of the $50 million pie comes from outside of town or out-of-state.

Secondly, I ask, is $206,027.38 enough money in returned tax revenue to justify $50 million gambled in 2014 within the Freeport city limits alone?  As a percentage, tax revenue compared to gambled dollars Freeport only saw 0.4 percent returned home to our city.

Do you think that 0.4 percent is enough to justify the additional burden being placed on families destroyed from a gambling addiction?  Is one family too many to sacrifice for the benefit of $206,000 in tax revenue?  Sure, I’m talking about a hypothetical, and human nature says, “that won’t happen to me,” but I’ve heard from enough addicts during my time with the Sheriff’s department and I understand the life altering changes that occur from a serious addiction.

Alternatively, I ask this: with the fiscal crisis facing the State of Illinois, can we afford to turn away business and taxing opportunities?  Someone out there is making money on gambling, someone out there is employing people and creating jobs for our community.  I appreciate the risks of launching a business and I appreciate the customer base for frequenting those establishments. Money spent in our community is a good thing.  Also, $50 million is a strong signal that our neighbors support and enjoy video gambling.

Finally, when the State of Illinois has to turn to gambling and selling drugs (medical marijuana) to fund our schools and fix our roads, do we have a bigger problem with the direction of our State?  I see this as a simplified version of the recent laws passed, and there are pros and cons on each side, but I write today to tell you I’m having this internal struggle.  Citizens enjoy spending their money on gambling; it is a financial risk and reward “game.”  Now that we know $50 million nets the city $206,000 in tax revenue and comes with additional moral implications, is this worth it for us?  There is much more than this column can address as it relates to the numbers; however you can check out the information yourself for your community in the 89th District at the Illinois Gaming Board at www.igb.illinois.gov click on Video Gaming and then click monthly reports by establishment or municipality.

This week’s topic reminds of a quote from Hunter S. Thompson: “there are many harsh lessons to be learned from the gambling experience, but the harshest one of all is the difference between having FUN and being SMART.”


As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or email us at repstewart@gmail.com. You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.
Two events recently started me thinking even more than I normally do about our region’s economy. On Wednesday, Highland Community College’s Leadership Institute met in the meeting space of one of my buildings. They discussed issues facing Freeport and the surrounding region, obstacles to economic progress, and catalysts needed for growth. Then, I spent Thursday morning with The Community Development Fund of Galena at the Desoto House. Jo Daviess County leaders presented issues facing the Jo Daviess County and Galena economy and community as well as progress that has been made recently.

A cause for concern for many leaders in the 89th district is the shrinking labor force. I can think, in particular, of a business opportunity I had recently, but, to move forward, I had to be sure I had an adequate labor pool to draw from. After weeks of research on the part of my staff, we determined we wouldn’t be able to hire enough people with the right skill set, so we had to allow the opportunity to pass us by. Our shrinking labor force is not from a lack of strong families and talented young people. However, many of our young local talent go to college and then seek employment in cities with higher paying jobs and with better social activities. And while I love our region, I can’t blame them. Most college grads these days are saddled with seemingly insurmountable college debt and those urban salaries combined with the opportunity to grow their careers seem pretty alluring.

We have to ask ourselves, what can we do to keep them here and to draw in new talent from across the state and country? Our promise of easy commutes and little traffic won’t do the trick. And neither will our current unemployment rates. So what will?

A good start would be building on our existing higher educational institutions by introducing or further developing internship and apprenticeship programs into the region. We need more programs similar to the ones already developed by district-wide organizations to continue to inspire local students to be successful as well as encouraging them to develop connections to the community, leadership expertise, and skills related to their chosen fields.

Our region needs more of what I saw on Wednesday at the Leadership Institute—young professionals learning how to affect change in our area—and more of what I saw on Thursday in Galena—city, county, and state leaders joining forces to develop a unified view of economic obstacles and ways those obstacles can be overcome.

And we need more than just the leaders to join forces. We need young people to imagine great ideas and then implement them. We need business people to continue to grow their businesses, hire new employees, and then reinvest in the community. We need retirees, with their wisdom acquired over a lifetime, to mentor the next generation.

Economic change requires action. And action requires people. “No man is an island,” wrote John Donne, late sixteenth and early seventeenth century poet, “every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Each individual in our region has the opportunity to make a positive impact; and each choice will have a ripple effect. We can stimulate our region’s economy, but it will require every person making a choice to contribute.

If you participated in an internship or an apprenticeship program, let me hear your story and the benefits of your experience on Facebook this week.


As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or email us at repstewart@gmail.com. You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.