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Red Light Camera Ban
On Wednesday of this past week, the Illinois House passed a bill banning red light cameras in non-home rule communities. The bill would prevent these communities from using traffic cameras after January 1, 2017. It now awaits a vote in the Senate.

While the bill is a much-needed one, it doesn’t address red light camera programs in big cities, like Chicago where $500 million in revenue has been generated from $100 tickets since 2003. The cameras do little to provide extra safety in busy intersections but do plenty to line the pocketbooks of larger municipalities that have introduced such programs. One judge in the Chicago area admits to overturning most of the red light camera tickets that come before him because the tickets were issued when yellow lights did not last 3 seconds, the legally required minimum.

Illinois Roads
If you’ve checked your mailboxes recently, you may have seen a mailer from a group representing the road builders’ union that makes some pretty ridiculous accusations against the legislators with the courage to tackle the fiscal crisis. The charged rhetoric and misleading information in the mailer is meant to stir an emotional response yet ignores key facts.

Recently, the Illinois General Assembly and the Governor worked together to craft a budget package to fill the $1.6 billion deficit we faced in FY15. The bill protected prisons, daycares, and services for the mentally ill that were in jeopardy from lack of funding as well as providing  for critical categorical school funding.

The $1.6 billion deficit was a result of an out-of-balance budget passed without any Republican support in May 2014 for FY15. The budget deliberately created a crisis that was meant to be “corrected” with an income tax increase if Governor Quinn was re-elected. He wasn’t, however, and Governor Rauner took his place. The 99th General Assembly was not called in to a special session to raise taxes, and Governor Rauner was left with the looming budget deficit. He worked with other government leaders to correct the budget in a manner that would not take any more hard-earned money from Illinois residents.  

$350 million (not the $400 million as stated in the mailer) was reallocated from IDOT to partially fill the $1.6 billion deficit. Yes, it is being used for other purposes than roads—it’s being used helping meet payroll for prison workers, allowing working class parents to continue being able to provide childcare for their children, and providing necessary services to our State’s most vulnerable citizens. However, the reallotment of funds will not affect funding for FY16 road construction or put IDOT operations in jeopardy. The Appropriations-Public Safety committee, on which I sit, will work to ensure IDOT has the funds needed to continue to maintain Illinois roads to help our State’s residents stay safe.

Additionally, the Illinois Road fund with revenue from motor fuel taxes, vehicle registrations, drivers’ license fees, and the federal government today sits on a balance of over $1 billion, the highest in state history.

I am concerned, as are you, with the infrastructure of our roads and bridges, and please know that I am committed to rebuilding them as funds allow. However, to achieve our goal of rebuilding Illinois, we need to first deal with the immediate need to turnaround Illinois finances.

Don Allen Holbrook, an economist and author, writes that “tomorrow's outcome for our nation is dependent upon how we act today to create the outcomes we desire for our country. Individual accountability is each of our responsibilities if we want to rebuild, renew and restore. . . . Each of us is either part of the problem or the solution.” My colleagues and I, who recently voted for the budget bill, are working to be part of the solution to rebuild Illinois.

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.
Legislative Session
I made the long drive to Springfield Tuesday morning, and, along with the rest of the Illinois General Assembly, I’ve spent most of this week in session or in committee. We still have not heard any budget bills in session yet, but stay tuned. I will keep you updated as soon as we do.

Holocaust Remembrance
This past Thursday, April 16, was the seventy-second anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising and internationally recognized as Holocaust Remembrance Day. While some choose to forget the horrors of the Holocaust and others choose to blatantly deny its having ever happened, may we never let the blinders of history cause us to forget the consequences of the past. Never forget. Never again.

150th Anniversary of President Lincoln’s Death
Wednesday of this week marked the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s death. President Lincoln, leader of the Union during the Civil War was assassinated just a few days after the Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. The President served as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives for twelve years before later serving in the United States Congress. He also led the movement to relocate the state capital to Springfield, where my fellow legislators and I continue to serve our state.

I am proud to honor a President who rose to the presidency with little formal education, who emancipated an entire people from slavery, and who managed to keep our country together through one of the most trying times in our history. Though he was not born and raised in Illinois, he spent his young adult years here developing into the leader and President he would become in the 1860s. In a time in our state when we are struggling to regain our financial footing, learning from President Lincoln is more important than ever. His example can teach us the value of hard work, the importance of collaboration with people who are not necessarily like-minded, and the significance of valuing sound decision-making over popularity.

President Lincoln supposedly once stated “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” As a man who included members of the opposing party in his cabinet, he understood the value of breaking down political barriers to do the most good for the most people. Our State can benefit from his example today. It’s time for Illinois politicians to do away with party politics and voting based on the letter after our names. Let’s work to find common ground and determine what we can do that will benefit the people of Illinois.

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.
Headed back to Springfield
Spring break is over for the Illinois legislature, and we head back to Springfield early next week. The reprieve from weekly trips downstate was not unwelcome; however, I’m eager to head back to the Capitol to continue to work toward putting Illinois on a path to economic health.

Budget
While we’ve been in session for three months now and while Governor Rauner presented his budget address almost two months ago, we still have not discussed in detail the FY16 Budget in the Illinois House.  Yes, we addressed the pressing FY15 deficit, but the looming FY16 Budget will prove just as important, if not more important than filling the 2015 hole.  I, like you, am concerned with the economic and fiscal environment of our State and know that we can’t push it off until the last possible minute.  The politics behind the many budget bills we will see in the House this spring won’t be pretty, but I am confident that just as we broke down party lines to remedy the FY15 deficit, we too can work together to present a sound and effective budget for the coming year.

Tornados
My thoughts and prayers go out to all the residents of our region that were affected by the tornados last Thursday night.  I am eternally grateful to the emergency response teams that responded immediately to rescue people from damaged buildings, including the team that rescued twelve people from a restaurant in Rochelle.  Many emergency professionals from unaffected areas also responded to the crisis, and I am proud of our area’s EMTs, firefighters, and police officers.

The former Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, said that “while natural disasters capture headlines and national attention short-term, the work of recovery and rebuilding is long-term.”  The small town of Fairdale, the affected areas of Rochelle and the other parts of Ogle and Dekalb counties have made national headlines because of the disaster.  As their friends and neighbors, however, we must purposely not forget them when they are no longer in the headlines.  While they rebuild, we must support them and work with them in the recovery process.

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.
My column this week is in response to recent media coverage about Amtrak and its alleged return to northwest Illinois.  The following is a collaborative reply by Senator Dave Syverson, Representative Joe Sosnowski, Representative John Cabello, and me.  As area legislators, we have worked hard to deliver for our area, and we are proud of the fact that over the last four years we have been able to bring a record amount of our tax dollars back home.  During that time we were very careful never to overpromise or mislead our local communities or leaders because financial decisions are made based on those promises.
 
When our former Governor for political gain before an election preyed on people’s dreams by promising them that a train would be running every day by this fall and twice a day in 2016; we had to ask some obvious questions.  Frankly, knowing Governor Quinn’s history, we were shocked by the fact that some local leaders and some in the media would blindly accept his word that this project was funded and in place for completion this year. 

As supporters of rail service, it’s very disappointing that promises were made without the necessary financial resources, but we owe it to the taxpayers of our region and the state to ask the tough questions and do our homework.

In this case, it has become very clear that there was no funding in place for construction or operations, the timing of the project was unrealistic, and there were no state contracts in place.

The problem is that when political promises hit reality, reality always wins.  Now that the election is over and books are opened, we’ve found that Governor Quinn had also made $100s of millions worth of other promises that also have no funding!

In this case, tax dollars were sold on a project that leaders knew was not practical, and someone needs to answer for that.  We have been and are committed to rail, especially cargo, but in light of our state’s financial condition, we need to be realistic and pragmatic.  The funding will not be there in the near future and none of the extremely important preliminary work has been done. 

The initial feasibility studies show there will be very little demand for a train ride that only goes to Chicago once a day, costs $25, and takes almost two hours.  We can’t spend nearly $250 million hoping for future use.  We need to actually prove passenger demand, interest from freight companies, and involvement from the railroads.   None of this has been done.  It was just an empty campaign promise by former Governor Quinn.

In business, words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises, but only performance is reality,” said twentieth century business man Harold S. Geneen.  Politicians can make all the promises they want on the campaign trail, but their performance determines reality.

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.
For the first time in twelve years, the Illinois legislature passed two bi-partisan budget bills with a unanimous Republican vote.  Governor Rauner was a driving force behind them, but both Democrat and Republican leaders joined in sponsoring both bills.  Today, I’m going to delve into the budget deal to help you understand how the legislature is going to plug the $1.6 billion deficit that was looming in front of us this spring. 

HB 317
HB 317 appropriates funds to address the FY15 deficit, specifically to make payroll at our prisons, to provide low-income working families with child care assistance, to prevent court reporters from being laid off, and to fund services for the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled before funding for these programs run out.  To fully fund these programs, most line items in the General Fund are reduced by 2.25%.  In addition, the Governor was given access to a $90 million pool of funds to use to backfill operations lines, and $97 million is appropriated to the Illinois State Board of Education to offset reductions to K-12 programs.

HB 318
HB 318, sister bill to HB 317, defines and allows for emergency rulemaking for medical assistance programs and hospital assessments, amongst other items.  The bill also requires school districts to designate some of their state funding for special education expenses to maintain federal grants for special education, and the bill cuts funding for certain public services by 2.25%.

Budget Deal Strengths
The recent budget crisis was among the worst our state has ever seen.  Perhaps one of the greatest strengths of the FY15 solution is that it showed that our representatives and senators on both sides of the aisle can work together to pass legislation that puts our state on the right track. It gives me hope that future forward-thinking budget deals can be passed through bipartisan teamwork and effort.

Additionally, as I mentioned before, this action taken fills big holes.  The FY15 solution means that working parents will still be able to afford childcare for their children, that court reporters will still have jobs to go to everyday, that our hard-working correctional officers will still be paid for the important services they render to our state, and that the most vulnerable of our citizens will still receive the care and services they need.

Budget Deal Weaknesses
The cuts required by the FY15 budget deal aren’t ideal.  However, cuts to important services and programs, including cuts in healthcare funding, education funding, and public aid funding, are not what any of us want, but they will help us get on the right footing so our state is in a financial position to fully fund all state programs in the future.  To offset these cuts, the Governor has discretionary funds to ease the burden over the next several months until the FY16 Budget takes effect.

Conclusion
I believe passing legislation that resolves the deficit but does not raise state taxes is a wise move. Thomas Jefferson said that “A wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.” Our state is filled with diligent, industrious people who need every penny they earn. We empower them to be successful by not taking the hard-earned results of their labor away from them.


IDOT: “project may or may not be terminated”

Springfield… The Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) issued a response to local lawmakers regarding the possible future of an Amtrak passenger rail service to Rockford. IDOT stressed that project stakeholders understand the status of the project and the possibility that it may or may not be terminated.

“The availability of funds for this project was falsely advertised.  There was no money designated for the project. It was an outrageous political lie by the prior administration,” said State Representative Joe Sosnowski (R-Rockford).  “We must proceed cautiously and explore other means of developing transportation until IDOT determines their current and future fiscal outlook.”

“I am disappointed that this project continues to be delayed,” said State Representative Brian Stewart (R-Freeport). “IDOT confirmed that this project currently looks doubtful, however I am hopeful that future plans will continue to develop as we strive to address our States’ current fiscal mess. Until then, we will just have to wait.”

IDOT went on to explain that the Governor’s office is committed to turning Illinois around, but it has to first perform a comprehensive review of all spending and programs, including major infrastructure projects.

As the Spokesperson for the Appropriations Public Safety Committee, which appropriates IDOT, State Representative John Cabello (R-Machesney Park) expressed some concern for the future of the project.

“It’s unfortunate that this project continues to be unsuccessful, but the reality is the funds were never allocated. IDOT is in a difficult fiscal situation and will have to evaluate its long-term fiscal problems before committing to the project. I will have a better understanding as I work with Secretary Blakenhorn to appropriate IDOT’s FY16 Budget. However, we must first and foremost be stewards to the taxpayers of the state.”

“This is a project that we all want, and that I think everyone is excited about,” said State Senator Dave Syverson (R-Rockford), “but unfortunately our last Governor made a promise that he never funded. In light of our state’s current fiscal condition, it looks like the project will continue to be delayed until suitable funding can be found.”

The Amtrak project to Rockford will be reviewed by IDOT and allow for locals to submit their concerns for the future of the project as they work to evaluate other projects around the State.