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***Guest Column***

For the third consecutive week the House Speaker has cancelled session. Time is running out. The end of the fiscal year is fast approaching. After session adjourned in May, the Speaker agreed to hold session once a week in the month of June. Every session has been canceled so far. If we do not pass anything this month, there will be complete chaos and it is becoming clear that the Speaker is fine with that.

State services will screech to a halt if no action is taken in Springfield. The House Democrats say there’s nothing to vote-on. Nothing to vote on! There’s plenty to vote on. Last week, I discussed the stopgap budget bills. They are simple, non-controversial solutions that would keep operations running for seniors, schools, mental health facilities, prisons and capital projects. Additionally, the legislature needs to authorize the federal funds so that the state can spend them. There is a lot we should be voting on and time is ticking.

The Comptroller gave a very bleak outlook this week. Comptroller Munger says we could be $12 billion behind on our bill payments. Right now the state is about three months behind on its payments. If no action is taken before the end of the month, we could be a few more months behind. "It's like having $100 in your checking account and $8,000 worth of bills on your table to pay now and another couple of thousand dollars coming in the mail and $116,000 on your credit card that you owe. You have to make a monthly contribution on that for the pension payment and you have $100,” she said at her press conference.

This is no way to run a state. Our social services are being irreparably harmed because they are not getting paid. Some of them have already been forced out of business. Our colleges, universities, and college students are waiting for their funds to be replenished. The $600 million dollar stopgap we approved in the spring has almost all been exhausted. All of this, and the Speaker says there’s nothing to vote-on.

It is clear that the majority party is willing to hold everyone hostage until the election. This isn’t a game. People’s lives are at stake. People’s jobs are hanging on by a thread. After this month, Illinois will be the first U.S. state since the Great Depression to try to operate for more than one year without a budget. As a result, Illinois now has the lowest credit ranking of all 50 states.

Illinois schools operated on schedule in 2015-2016. Despite the budget impasse, the General Assembly did pass an education bill for last year. This year however, it seems that Democrats aren’t interested in passing a standalone education bill. They want a bill that would bail out Chicago Public Schools and specifically the Chicago Teacher’s Pension Fund for several hundred million dollars. The House Republicans have introduced a standalone education bill, but the Speaker will not call it to a vote, fearing that Chicago Public Schools will not get bailed out. As they hold every student in this state hostage for a Chicago bailout, our kids could see their school programs vanish.

The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) says that their road projects will shut down. The state has money set-aside for construction projects however IDOT cannot spend the funds without authorization from the state legislature. The other bill in our bridge package, HB 6585, would serve as a stopgap for capital projects and keep our construction workers on the job.

HB 6585 and HB 6583 both sit in Springfield waiting to be called to a vote by the Speaker of the House.

Like I have said previously, there are solutions available to avoid a state shutdown. We have two bills that are temporary, non-controversial solutions that could be voted-on today that would stop this fiscal uncertainty among our schools, universities, human services, and capital projects. There is only one person standing in the way of it – Speaker Michael Madigan. This week’s column reminds me of a quote by Jim DeMint who said “Compromise works well in the world when you have shared goals.” It’s time we stop thinking about the November election and do what is right for the people of Illinois and pass these two bills.

As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or e-mail us at repstewart@gmail.com. You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or on Facebook.
***Guest Column***

There are less than two weeks left of the current fiscal year and again the legislature’s day in Springfield was cancelled by Speaker Madigan. We are told that the Working Groups are making progress, but in reality, the State of Illinois cannot wait any longer. If we do not agree to a financial plan in the next week, our state will enter its second year without a budget.



***Guest Column***

Today I would like to tell you what we had achieved in the Capitol over the past week, but unfortunately Speaker Madigan cancelled our day to meet. It is disheartening, disappointing, and flat out sad that he cancelled the General Assembly’s opportunity to continue discussing the issues that face this state. House Republican Leader Jim Durkin introduced two bills that we should have voted on this week.
***Guest Column***

Spring session ended on Tuesday, and with it ends any chance of a balanced budget in the foreseeable future. This week, the Governor and Republicans offered concessions, but Speaker Madigan refused to allow any discussion of a compromise.

We made several attempts, and one of my colleagues went as far as to stand on the House floor and ask everyone who was willing to work on a budget to stand up. Everyone on the Republican side rose, but Democrats (For fear of reprisal) mostly remained seated. To me, that sums up the entirety of the Spring Session. We tried to get things done, but it became abundantly clear that House leadership had no interest in passing a budget.

On the last day of session, not one of our budget solutions was called to a vote. Instead, the other side passed bailouts for the Chicago pension system – you read that correctly. Have you ever listened to the flight attendant’s safety briefing on a commercial flight? You hear something along the lines of, “If the cabin were to lose pressure, first secure your air mask on your face and then secure your child’s after yours.” So, if you yourself are well, then you are better positioned to help others. Perhaps we should apply the same logic to fixing our own finances before we talk about bailing out Chicago.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a serious problem. Without a budget, K-12 schools aren’t going to open on time, seniors will continue to lose their services, and childcare centers won’t receive funding. We can’t wait any longer for a budget, but Speaker Madigan knows it is in his best interest to wait until after the November election. Here is why:

Governor Rauner suggests that we could make common sense changes to the way our government works, and those changes would save the State of Illinois enough money to balance our budget. However, according to the Speaker (Who has been in Springfield for 45 years), our state government works like a well-oiled machine – so let’s expand it!

Have you ever been stuck for hours waiting in uncomfortable, plastic chairs at the DMV? If so, then I’m sure you are aware; the State of Illinois is anything but a well-oiled machine. In their “budget” this month, House leadership proposed expanding the Illinois state government’s responsibilities and adding $7 billion to the deficit. By the way, I put budget in quotes because, as a business owner, I know that a budget is only a budget if expenses do not exceed revenue.

This scenario (If the Speaker has his way) requires floating the $7 billion, and waiting to raise taxes to pay for it until after the election. Meanwhile, schools will not open on time this fall and they get to point the finger at the Governor and tell Illinoisans that everything is his fault. As the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board put it: “Ever hear the one about the man who kills his parents, then throws himself on the mercy of the court, whimpering that now he's an orphan?”

The fact is, Governor Rauner has repeatedly said in public that he is willing to work with Democrats to pass a responsible, balanced budget. The other side has consistently snubbed his efforts, because for Speaker Madigan to succeed, Governor Rauner needs to be perceived as the problem.

Looking ahead, the House leadership and the Governor say that we should remain optimistic. In all honesty, I am so disappointed that it is difficult for me to be optimistic about anything. The Speaker’s decisions to call Chicago bailout bills for the last 48 hours of session was in very poor taste, and if it is any indication of his intentions for this continuous session, then I believe I am right to withhold optimism.

This past month has been a bad joke on the people of the State of Illinois. Hopefully next week I can report back to you with better news and it also brings to mind a quote by President Ronald Reagan who said “Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.” 

As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or e-mail us at repstewart@gmail.com. You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or on Facebook.
***Guest Column***

Are you satisfied with Illinois Government? Well you could pay 47% more for it. Wednesday night, the House Democrats launched a surprise attack on taxpayers, throwing a 500 page budget for a vote, giving us one hour to prepare for it. The Speaker of the House waived parliamentary procedure and pushed SB 2048 to a vote.

For the first time in Illinois history, the state would spend $40 billion dollars in General Revenue Fund spending even though our state is expected to bring in $33 billion dollars in revenue. That is $7 billion more than what we expect to generate in revenue. It is unconscionable to double our debt next year. The taxpayers did not cause this problem. The legislature caused this problem and the legislature can solve it if only they choose to pass necessary reforms.

Sometimes you are left wondering what to believe when you see the figures used by both sides. For simplification’s sake, let’s boil things down in terms of a family budget. All we have to do is take off six little zeroes from each number to put things into perspective. Imagine that between you and your significant other you expect a take home pay of $32,600 over the next twelve months. So, being the fiscally responsible couple that you and your significant other are, you sit down at the kitchen table to discuss finances and to create a budget for the upcoming year. After a few hours of discussion you settle on budget: of the $32,600 you bring in this year you will spend a meager $40,000 –wait—that can’t be right, can it? Oh that’s right, you forgot to account for your $125,000 mortgage and the $15,000 you owe on the car. Don’t sweat it, you have two kids. Why don’t you just take out a line of credit on your children? Great idea! So, after moving some numbers around you finally have a responsible budget and all you had to do was saddle your kids with your debts.

Ok, so this is perhaps an unfair example, because I know that there is not a single family in the 89th District that is this irresponsible. But this example does highlight an important point: our deficits are not just an economic issue, but also a moral issue. Will we allow our state to accrue so much debt that it leaves our descendants to pick up our tab? By that point they will be faced with two choices: find a way to pay for our generation’s debts or flee the state.

My colleagues and I have worked tirelessly, coming up with endless compromises and proposals. Not one of them was called to a vote on the House Floor. Speaker Madigan and the Democrats he controls have killed any reasonable, balanced budget proposal. They don’t care if the budget is unbalanced, as long as they are doing things the same way we have been doing them for the past 30 years.

Meanwhile, seniors who lost their meals on wheels, kids in poverty trying to get grants for college, and countless others have fallen between the cracks. Chicago Democrats who control the House and Senate need to take just one or two steps toward the middle. We must find a compromise. The Oxford Dictionary defines “compromise” as an agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions.

We are willing to make concessions. Are the Democrats? No. They would rather stomp their feet while they hold the college students and seniors hostage for political gain.

The two budget groups were starting to pull in the same direction and finally a budget feels closer than ever. The budget groups are bipartisan, rank-and-file legislators with good intentions. It is up to Speaker Madigan whether or not their proposals are called to a vote. If he continues this partisan political game, the blood of the people hurt by the impasse will be on his hands, not Republicans.

If we fulfill Speaker Madigan’s desires, you can expect an additional $7 billion dollars in expenses without any money to pay for it. It will require that we raise $7 billion dollars in revenue. Revenue equals taxes in their eyes.

To balance a $7 billion dollar deficit, the State would need a state income tax hike to at least 5.5%. My colleagues and I have said time and time again that everything is on the table; however we must make reforms to state government before we throw more money into state coffers.

This state has not done anything to reform its finances and does not deserve additional revenue. We want to end this financial turmoil that threatens the most vulnerable in our communities. It threatens the people who least can afford it. We want to work with the Democrats, but their Leadership does not want to work with us. They don’t understand the meaning of compromise. Compromise is not doing whatever Speaker Madigan wants.

This month, we released hundreds of millions of dollars to higher education from an emergency fund. It was a considerable amount of money, but it doesn’t fix the problem. It temporarily stopped the bleeding. Schools will exhaust all of that funding by the end of June.

Senator Manar’s school funding bill passed the Senate this week and may get called to a vote in the next few days. As a reminder, this bill would have a very negative impact on the schools in our district, with some losing a million dollars or more. You can’t take from Paul to pay Peter. That’s what this bill would do. I support more money for all school districts. No school should lose money, they should all gain money. We need to start funding our schools at 100% and making good on the promises that we made.

The Illinois General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn on Tuesday, May 31st. I hope I can report next week that miraculously both sides of the aisle came together and negotiated a balanced budget. Until then, I wish you and your family a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend as we pay tribute to our men and women who sacrificed their lives protecting our freedom while serving in the Armed Forces.

This week reminds me of the following quote by Herbert Hoover, “It is a paradox that every dictator has climbed to power on the ladder of free speech. Immediately upon retaining power each dictator has suppressed all free speech except his own.”

As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or e-mail us at repstewart@gmail.com. You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or on Facebook.
***Guest Column***

This week the General Assembly discussed many items, some of those were decriminalization of marijuana, new licensing for gun dealers, reducing sales taxes on feminine hygiene products and pay raises the state can’t afford. The problem is that we don’t have a budget, but instead of having the tough conversation about solutions, we talked about pay raises for some segments of the State’s workers. Now I certainly appreciate the hard work our state workers provide and I support them. However, the pay raise legislation that passed this week will cost an additional 3 billion dollars we simply don’t have. It leaves me asking myself, where will this $3 billion come from? We are not the Federal Government. We cannot print our own currency. It’s not growing on trees… It’s going to come out of your pocket.

The state can manage its money better and our Governor is doing the best he can with the challenges we are faced with. If the State of Illinois was an individual person, imagine Illinois as someone who makes more than average, but lives way beyond his or her means. Do you know anyone like that? Well, Illinois has a large house that is upside down on its mortgage. This week, the owner decided that he’s building an addition without any money to pay for it.

It’s this kind of decision-making that has dragged this state down for the past 25 years. People elected a new Governor to shake things up and show us a different way of doing things. Instead, career politicians refuse to accept ideas on how to correct inefficiencies and root out waste. Instead, they repeatedly reach back into the taxpayer’s pockets for more of their hard earned money.

On another note, I wanted to let you know that your driver’s license is changing. Secretary of State Jesse White announced that all new drivers’ licenses will include several new security features such as a new photo structure and a design that includes patterns and lines in the image. These changes are an effort to comply with the Federal REAL ID Act of 2005 and will further protect your information from potential criminal activity.

I would also like to congratulate Lieutenant Colonel James Winters and Major Robert Atherton on their upcoming retirements from the Illinois State Police. Thank you for your great service and commitment to the citizens of Illinois. While we are talking about the State Police, there have been reports that scammers are impersonating police. In some cases, the misleading phone calls ask for monetary donations, warn the listener there is a warrant for their arrest, or both. The State Police, which issued a public warning of the scam phone calls on Wednesday, May 11, which states that the police force will never use telephone calls to solicit money for any reason. They advise anyone who has received one of these calls to contact the consumer fraud hotline of the Office of the Illinois Attorney General.

Representative Demmer and I hosted a Tele Townhall for our districts last week. Thank you to everyone who participated. We had a very nice, thoughtful conversation with 30,000 people in our districts. People asked great questions and we had a good time talking with you. If you did not get a chance to speak with us, you can always reach out to my office by calling the telephone number listed at the end of this column.

Looking ahead to the final days of the Spring Session, I hope the “Budgeteer Group” can put together a serious proposal for a budget. Failed leadership and bad decisions has driven out hundreds of thousands of jobs over the past decades. Those failures have created an insurmountable mountain of debt that crushes our state’s finances. We can do better. The House Republicans have proposed solution after solution, but the other side refuses to let any of them be heard on the House Floor. I hope we see some budget progress next week. We can’t afford to let the other side of the aisle pull Illinois further into this debt hole. We stand here, willing to compromise. My colleagues understand that there has to be give and take. However, leadership from the other side refuses to cooperate, they would rather hold the most vulnerable people in this state hostage while they refuse to negotiate a budget.

This week’s column reminds me of a quote from Sinclair Lewis who said “It isn’t what you earn but how you spend it that fixes your class.” I have said repeatedly Illinois needs to grow its tax base, not its tax rate and I hope we take some action in the last 9 days of session to do just that.

As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or e-mail us at repstewart@gmail.com. You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or on Facebook.
***Guest Column***

Happy Small Business Week! Every year since 1963, the President of the United States has issued a proclamation announcing National Small Business Week which recognizes the ambition and contribution of America’s small business owners. According to a survey of 500 small business owners, 63% think that the country is going in the wrong direction. I have a pretty good idea why.

This week in the Illinois General Assembly, we struck down another proposed Constitutional Amendment to levy an 11.25% tax on small businesses and farmers. After the State took in an extra $34 billion from the temporary tax hike and made no effort to reform Illinois’ finances, the other side of the aisle tried to pass another massive tax hike. The same party responsible for years of overspending, over taxing and a mountain of debt wants to move to a graduated tax for one reason and one reason only – to raise taxes and spend more money. Even though the proposal was not called for a vote, it still looms as a distraction to our employers in Illinois. The last Census data showed there are nearly 250,000 small businesses in this state and they employ 2.5 million Illinoisans. A tax on them is a tax on almost everyone.

The other side of the aisle argues that only the wealthy are impacted by a progressive income tax. In reality, 70% of small businesses pay taxes at the individual, not the corporate tax rate. With these threats from lawmakers, it’s clear why Illinois lags behind the national average in job creation. The uncertainty of managing a small business is amplified when lawmakers threaten to take away 11.25% of its earnings. How can these entrepreneurs plan for next year when they have no idea what to expect? They can’t, which stifles growth and drags down our state’s economy.

Thursday was Illinois History Day. This year's Governor's Award went to a group of students from River Ridge High School who uncovered the unfortunate death of an Illinois hero, Jo Daviess County Sheriff John Bardell. Unfortunately his sacrifice was lost in history until the research by the students and history teacher Mike Dittmar revealed Sheriff Bardell’s story. Because of these students, Sheriff Bardell now has his rightful place in Illinois’ Police Memorial.

Our police officers rarely get the recognition that they deserve. They risk their lives every day to protect and serve their communities. This week, we honored the fallen Illinois officers at the Illinois State Capitol. Here is the prayer from The Illinois Police Officers Memorial Committee.

“Almighty God, Father of all Mercies, we ask Thy Blessing and guidance upon all Law Enforcement Officers engaged in the protection of our citizens. Be with them in their lonely tours of duty while patrolling the busy streets of our cities and the remote area of the country. Give them the Blessings of Your Wisdom, to know and do what is right. Temper their actions with mercy and justice. When their tours are completed and the day is over, guide them safely home to their loved ones.

We also ask Thy Blessing and eternal rest to all our Brothers and Sisters who have sacrificed their very lives in the performance of their duties. Give to their loved ones the peace and strength to bear the anguish of their loss. Remove all resentment from their hearts, knowing that eternal peace and rest will abide over their departed loved one forever. This we beg in Thy name forever and ever. Amen”

We have sixteen more days left of session. There are two separate groups trying to negotiate a budget right now. I really hope that they can reach an agreement this month. The state needs a balanced budget and time is running out. We need to get down to business and hammer out an agreement already. Our side of the aisle has been standing with our arms outstretched, willing to compromise for months. We can fix the problems of Illinois, but only if we have a dialogue. This deadlock has to give way soon. The People of Illinois are counting on us.

As we move forward towards the end of session this month I am reminded of a quote by Daniel Hannan who stated, “You cannot spend your way out of recession or borrow your way out of debt.”
As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or e-mail us at repstewart@gmail.com. You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or on Facebook.