Brian's Column 12-23-2014

It’s almost a new year, a time for new resolutions. Dan Diamond, a Forbes contributor, says that around 40% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions every year, and I suggest that Illinois join the ranks of New Year’s resolution makers. If the state needs any help figuring out what resolutions to make for 2015, I've got a few ideas.

1. Illinois should resolve to become a business-friendly state. A recent Gallup poll gave Illinois an F in all things related to business—it’s hard to start a business, hard to hire, hard to jump through government hoops, hard to keep up with the mountain of taxes. The legislature and the governor need to work together to lessen regulation, lower taxes, and make start-up fees lower. Instead of favoring big business with tax loopholes and breaks, Illinois needs to give small business opportunities to succeed. Those small businesses “constitute nearly half the private-sector workforce and contribute two-thirds of job creation,” according to an August 15, 2014 Chicago Tribune article.

2. Illinois should resolve to balance the budget. The 2015 budget leaves a $5 billion shortfall that would take the income tax remaining at 5% to make up the difference. The legislature and the governor need to create a budget for 2016 that does not depend on taxing the good people of Illinois out of house and home. We need to cut spending in places that don’t benefit the people and to live within our means.

3. Illinois should resolve to fix the pension predicament. The state has not fulfilled its obligation to public employees, in essence stealing from the retirement of people who have worked hard to serve the state, the teachers, the police officers, the firemen and the state workers. Illinois needs to keep its promises to its employees but also needs to create a retirement plan for new employees that provides for their retirement but does not cost taxpayers astronomical amounts.

4. Illinois should resolve to reform education funding. The current funding plan favors Chicago and collar county districts and under serves downstate districts. Current state funding funnels money into large Chicago districts but leaves downstate schools to rely on property taxes for the funds to support school programs. The legislature needs to create a plan that funds Chicago and downstate schools equally. Our downstate students are just as important as city students and deserve the same opportunities and programs that city students are given.

5. Illinois should resolve to throw out partisan politics. Partisan politics on both sides of the aisle has done nothing to help our state. Politicians create programs that benefit them or their party but don’t necessarily benefit the good of the people. For 2015, politicians need to forget about their own personal ambitions to create an environment that fosters economic and social growth.

6. Illinois should resolve to audit state aid programs. An audit this spring “found that the Illinois Department of Health and Family Services had 8,232 people still on Medicaid rolls qualifying for benefits, even though they were dead,” according to a May 29, 2014 Sun Times article. Other state aid programs need auditing to ensure that enrollees are still alive and still in need of aid and are actually still eligible. The state should also encourage individuals who are able to work to find jobs instead of only working a certain amount of hours so they can continue receiving state aid.

7. Illinois should resolve to keep the income tax burden manageable. The personal income tax is set to roll back to 3.75% on January 1, 2015, and it should stay that way. Illinois families struggle to keep up with escalating property taxes and federal taxes in addition to the recent tax increase that the Governor and state legislature promised was only temporary. Illinois needs to allow its people to thrive instead of just barely survive on the little left over after federal, state, county, and local taxes.

The poet T.S. Eliot wrote that “last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice. And to make an end is to make a beginning.” As we come to the end of a year, we have a new beginning ahead of us. Let’s use it to make a difference in the lives of the people of Illinois.

Happy New Year to you all!

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.

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