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I was honored this week to meet Jong-Kook Lee, the Consul General of the Republic of Korea who addressed a Session of the House of Representatives. Illinois exports to Korea totaled over $1.23 billion in 2016, an 84.1% increase since 2009. Illinois ranks 5th among the 50 US States exports to South Korea.



Pierce Brown wrote, “Home isn't where you're from, it's where you find light when all grows dark.” For 115,000 Illinoisans in the past year, the light is no longer in the Land of Lincoln. 115,000 Illinois residents left our state according to the US Census Bureau between July 2016 and July 2017. Furthermore, Illinois has lost over 642,000 residents since 2010.

This is especially true of Illinois rural counties.  The Illinois News Network reports that rural Illinois has been losing more population in recent years, while suburban Chicago has grown. Crain’s Chicago Business indicates that Chicagoland has done more than increase population, it has created jobs, saying, “Federal data shows that just 20 counties nationwide accounted for half of new businesses created in the US between 2010 and 2014… Cook was the only county in the Midwest to land on that top 20 list.”

Even considering the growth in Chicago’s economy, the Illinois economy continues to struggle. Our first budget in two years is currently running a 1.7 billion dollar deficit, even after passing permanent corporate and individual income tax increases.  Internal Revenue Service data tells us that Illinois has lost $3.4 billion in “adjusted gross income” (AGI) to neighboring states between 2010 and 2015.

The legacy of the status quo is declining rural population, lagging employment, punitive tax increases, and wasteful state spending.  Contrary to what others have written, I am not against increasing state revenues.  I am against increasing your tax burden.  The average family of four pays more in taxes in Illinois than in any other state in the country.  We are taxed enough already.  So let’s put the myth that higher taxes will save our state’s economy to rest.  
Here is what I do stand for.  I believe we should pursue the right course to expand our tax base.  That is how we increase revenue.  To do that, we need to make Illinois a destination state, for families and businesses.

Before the recent tax hike, it was small businesses driving job growth in Illinois.  Businesses with fewer than 50 employees created 75 percent of the net new jobs in 2016, and from 2011 to 2016, businesses with fewer than 500 jobs created 79 percent of net new jobs, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.  We need to cut the red tape and drain the swamp of regulations that suffocate small businesses.  It is time to make it just a little bit easier for entrepreneurs to move our economy forward and create jobs.

The laundry list of incentives for businesses to start or expand in Chicagoland is long, and let’s face it, probably a little soiled.  If we are going to grow ALL of Illinois, we need better incentives to expand the rural tax base and grow our economy.  We need to expand Enterprise Zones in rural communities.  We need to increase incentives for regional planning and economic development in rural communities.

A good start would be passing the Lincoln-Douglas Historical Tax credit (HB3096) which I filed last year.  This legislation would extend the River’s Edge Tax credit to all seven of the Lincoln-Douglas debate sites in order to help spur development in those communities.

Another excellent step to improving our competitiveness and increasing our tax base seems simple.  We need to make sure any business interested in incentives to expand or start-up is not required to obtain a competing incentive package from a neighboring state – my bill (HB3105). It is counterproductive to offer an incentive and then require the business to apply for an incentive package from a neighboring state.

I believe in Illinois.  I believe in our work force.  I believe in our students.  I believe in our families.  I believe in our small business community.  I believe we have what it takes to climb from the bottom of state rankings to the top.


We do not need more new taxes to do it.  We do not need more regulations to do it.  We need to expand our tax base and grow our economy.  We need better incentives for rural communities like the ones I have outlined.  It was “Bunker” Roy who said, “Strengthen the rural areas and you will find less people migrating to urban areas.”

We also need to reform our education system.  We need to cut the red tape that bleeds our businesses dry.  And we need to focus on incentivizing small businesses because they are the people who create most of the jobs anyway.  That is the recipe for success.  That is how we start attracting families and businesses to grow in Illinois.  I look forward to the 2018 General Assembly session which begins next week.

If you have any additional thoughts or ideas for making Illinois better, you can reach me or Sally at 815-232-0774, or visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com and use the form to send me an e-mail.
Thank you! Last month, I sent out my legislative update and included a survey covering important issues we all face in Illinois. Hundreds of you returned the survey either by mail or online and they are still coming in! Many of you sent personal comments, letters, and cards as well. I am reviewing them all, and am both humbled and grateful to read your thoughts.

I also understand there were some challenges with the online survey. I am working with our House web development staff to work on improvements for the future. It was George Washington who said, “In a free and republican government, you cannot restrain the voice of the multitude.” The government is us; we are the government, you and I. For a government to be successful we need to elect good people, who know when to stick to their guns and how to accomplish the will of the people.

That is why surveys like the one many of you completed are so important. Our state leaders need to avoid the Springfield echo chamber and gain perspective by reaching out and listening to voters. Leadership is better when it is informed. I want to know the issues important to you so I can better represent your needs in Springfield.

Public service does not come without criticism. It is part of the job description. To some, the survey could have been more specific or allowed greater detail. It is important to note this survey was an opportunity to obtain a general idea of the issues that are important to you, and to open future discussions about them.

One of the most significant issues in both parts of the survey was taxes. It was a Republican Supreme Court Justice from Massachusetts, Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said, “I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization.” What I often wonder is whether the taxes we currently pay are buying us a more civilized society?

I am absolutely certain that we pay enough in taxes. Not only is the state and local tax burden worse for the average family in Illinois than in California or Massachusetts, it is worse than every other state in the country. Over 70% of survey respondents agree their state income taxes are too high and that the recent tax hike should be repealed.

Even more people believe taxes should be reformed to reduce the property tax burden. Property tax reform was the number one survey issue, registering 87% support. We need to reform our tax system to encourage property ownership. We need tax reform to protect senior citizens and prevent them from being taxed out of their homes.

Many responses also articulated the understanding that the state needs revenue to pay for essential services, to reduce our debt, and to balance the budget. I agree. The problem with Springfield is that Speaker Madigan’s control accomplishes none of those things, even after raising our taxes.

Welfare reform ranked second in terms of support. 84% of survey responses supported reforming our welfare system. Those that were opposed were overwhelmingly opposed to drug testing for welfare recipients, either on constitutional or financial grounds (arguing that the costs outweighed the savings). What we can agree on is that there are far too many people relying on welfare and we need a growing economy to create jobs that will help people lift themselves and their children from government dependence to independence.

That is why creating new jobs and retaining the ones we have and adding resources like targeted TIF districts and enterprise zones are so important. Tax credits like the Rivers Edge tax credits and my proposed Lincoln Douglas debate site tax credits will help attract new businesses that will create jobs throughout Northern Illinois.

It is a New Year, and we will have ample opportunity to discuss the issues in greater depth. I am looking forward to the work ahead moving Illinois in the right direction. Thank you again for taking the time to complete the survey. If you have not yet completed it, please visit my website http://www.repbrianstewart.com/. You can reach the survey by clicking the 3rd icon down on the right-hand side titled, “2017 Session Wrap-Up Survey.”

As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or e-mail us at stewart@ilhousegop.org. You can also contact me by visiting my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or on Facebook.
Well, 2017 has flown by. Here we are, at the start of another year. Like Christmas, the New Year fills our hearts with hope and possibility. We make resolutions and plans. We commit ourselves to making this year better than the last. I am looking forward to what the New Year will bring for us.

New Year’s Resolutions are not a new phenomenon. The ancient Babylonians brought in the New Year with promises to their gods, while returning borrowed items, and clearing their debts. Romans made promises to the god Janus – get it, Janus for Janu-ary.

The tradition permeated Christianity too. Knights in the Middle Ages would place their hands on a live or roasted peacock, and recommit themselves to the code of chivalry. Christians held watch night services to bring in the New Year in prayer and commitment to make the next year a better one.

The hard part isn’t making plans or resolutions. It’s sticking to them. 41% of Americans make a New Year’s resolution each year (down from 45%). Only 8% of us complete or achieve our resolutions by the end of the year. Only 20% of the people who make New Year’s resolutions succeed! Sometimes people decide not to make resolutions because they’re afraid they won’t complete them. Looking at the numbers, it’s seems a rational fear. What we don’t realize is that the people who do make resolutions, like a resolution to lose weight, are 10 times more likely to succeed than people who want to lose weight but don’t make a resolution.

American colonial minister Jonathan Edwards realized the importance of resolutions when he was a young man. When he was 20 years old, he authored 70 resolutions to keep each year for the rest of his life. He wrote, “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake,” and added, “Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.”

Making resolutions for the New Year is a good thing. Turkish playwright, Mehmet Murat ildan, says, “What do you need in the New Year? You need a dream; your dream needs an action; and your action needs right thinking! Without right thinking, you can only have unrealized dreams.!” So yes, resolutions are good. The key is determining how to achieve them.

One possible aid was developed in the business world in 1981. George T. Doran, a former Director of Corporate Planning for Washington Water Power Company, published a work called, “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives,” introducing SMART goals. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-related.

First, we want our resolutions to be Specific. For example, “losing weight,” is less specific than, “I will lose 10 pounds.” In the case of Illinois, instead of “We will pass a balanced budget,” a specific resolution might be, “We will pass a balanced budget without increasing income or property taxes.” It’s definitely a fair resolution. Illinois has the highest total tax burden for the average family more than any other state in the country.

How do we make a resolution Measurable? Quitting smoking is a specific resolution. However, some folks can quit cold turkey, while others struggle. For the latter, a more measurable resolution could be quitting smoking by reducing the number of cigarettes smoked each week until getting to zero. For the state, the balanced budget resolution could be measured by committing to progress benchmarks throughout the session.

Most resolutions are easily Assignable. They’re our resolutions after all. But some involve working with other people. Resolving to improve a family relationship relies, at least in part, on the family member’s participation. In order to achieve a state level resolution for a balanced budget without new income or property taxes, we will cultivate both Democrats and Republicans to create a bipartisan commitment to generate whatever bill or amendments to achieve it.

The crux of achieving any resolution is whether it is Realistic. For many people, becoming a vegan may be an unrealistic goal, especially if they have always enjoyed flavored creamer in their coffee, and eggs for breakfast. Balancing a budget in Illinois without additional income or property taxes will be tough. For some it may seem unrealistic. But it is the right thing to do.

Time-related sounds like something that would be easy. A resolution for the next year is pretty self-explanatory regarding time. Consider a person who wants to lose 10 pounds over the next year. The goal is to have lost 10 pounds by the end of 2018. Perhaps they have large family gatherings over Thanksgiving and Christmas and enjoy Grandma’s homemade banana pudding. That person may find it harder to lose .84 pounds in November and December. They could adjust the timing of their resolution to lose 10 pounds by October, and work not to gain weight in November and December.

The budget bill the state passed last year did not pass in regular session. Several special sessions were called before it passed. Supporters of a resolution to pass a balanced budget without additional income or property taxes should maximize the time we have to climb every step necessary to attain our goal.

It was Abraham Lincoln who said, “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.” I look forward to helping our state achieve a balanced budget without raising our income or property taxes. I wish you success in achieving your resolutions in 2018 and a very Happy New Year!

As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or e-mail us at stewart@ilhousegop.org. You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or on Facebook.

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It’s hard to believe how fast another year has gone by, and that Christmas is already here.  I have said it before, and I will say it again, Christmas is a great time of year.  It is full of hope and joy, opportunity and care.  Christmas brings the promise that all things can become new.

Looking back at the past year, we have been very blessed.  We have many committed local public servants working diligently to meet the public trust.  Freeport elected its first woman as mayor, and changed its form of government to better serve the taxpayers.

Our local economy is moving forward with many regional businesses expanding and looking for qualified staff.  MetLife has returned to Freeport!  At my Annual Christmas Party, I was impressed to see so many young professionals who have joined our community of solidly growing businesses.
  
I had the opportunity to engage with some of these young professionals at the Leadership Institute’s December class held at Highland Community College.  I would like to thank program administrator, Jim Phillips, for inviting us to share our experience with the students.  We spent an hour discussing state government, both its challenges and opportunities for our community.
The questions were thoughtful and spoke volumes about the exceptional quality of the Leadership Institute and its participants.  Our future is bright indeed.


The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, RSVP, once again honored its volunteers for another year of exceptional community service.  Over 4,000 hours were donated to the community with a value of over $1,000,000!  In today’s world, it is easy to be cynical and skeptical about our future.  These folks give us hope that our best days lie ahead.  We are blessed indeed.  Taking stock of our blessings will help us prepare for the New Year of 2018, with all its challenges.

We certainly endured challenges in 2017.  The hope we had last Christmas that Republicans and Democrats in Springfield would put aside partisan blinders and come together to serve the public interest was in fact, not the case.  Instead, we saw a massive tax increase rammed through, picking the pockets of Illinois families in the process.  The average Illinois family now has an overall state and local tax burden that is greater than any state in the country!  We are being overtaxed, with nothing but mountains of unpaid bills to show for it.

Illinoisans have also been saddled with a budget deficit of 1.7 billion dollars for this year alone.  Not only were our wallets stripped, our children and grandchildren will be forced to pay the piper if we do not find another way forward.  With this unbalanced budget came increased charges and fees to local governments and businesses.  These charges are forcing local governments across the state to choose between cutting essential public services or raising our local taxes.

We need to do better in 2018.  We deserve better.  I am committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass a balanced budget, economic development incentives, cost saving measures, property tax reform, a fully funded capital plan geared towards renewing and expanding our infrastructure to better serve all of Illinois, and to finally have serious discussions on welfare reform including photo identification.

This Christmas reminds me of two quotes, the first by Bob Hope who said “When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things - not the great occasions - give off the greatest glow of happiness.” And the second by Joel Osteen who said “Christmas is the perfect time to celebrate the love of God and family and to create memories that will last forever.  Jesus is God’s perfect, indescribable gift.  The amazing thing is that not only are we able to receive this gift, but we are able to share it with others on Christmas and every other day of the year.”

I wish you all enjoy a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday season.  As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or e-mail us at stewart@ilhousegop.org.  You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or on Facebook.

Joined the Northwest Illinois Criminal Justice Commission meeting in Sterling! We discussed training opportunities, current issues, and future legislation.