Brian's Column 02-06-2015

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  Additionally, the State tax code is outdated with an unfair tax burden on the middle class and on small businesses.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He plans to empower the middleclass and small businesses by reforming the outdated tax code, introducing sales taxes on more services to spread out the tax burden.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.

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