District Update and Holiday Blessings

Where has the time gone this year? It seems I ask myself that question around this time every year, but it never ceases to amaze me how time flies. The past two weeks have been very productive for the 89th District as we begin to close out 2015. I have outlined a few of the legislative events below, and would be happy to listen, discuss, or present for your group in the future – weather and schedule permitting. Also, I’d like to remind everyone to drive defensively and be courteous to others on the road as we approach the season with some of the most dangerous weather conditions.

Speaking of weather, I was driving home from Chicago when our first snow fall of the year began in the 89th District. I have had the pleasure of serving on Governor Rauner’s Criminal Justice Reform Commission this year, and we spent the day advancing a bipartisan agenda for our final report due in December. All commissioners have passionately debated and had a healthy exchange of ideas which span multiple ideologies and personal backgrounds. Our final report will ultimately be suggested as part of a comprehensive overhaul to the Illinois criminal justice system. I’m proud of the work my colleagues and I have done, but there is much more to accomplish.

This past week I also held two of my annual Legislative Luncheons to assist in updating our local leaders on new laws and pending legislation to solicit feedback in each of our communities. Sometimes laws are passed that have great intentions, but in specific circumstances they create terrible results. Hearing from our local leaders that experience these difficulties assists in eliminating burdensome regulations and mandates from Springfield.

I’d like to thank all of our area school Superintendents and the Chiefs and Sheriffs of our local law enforcement agencies for attending their respective meetings. Public safety and public education impact every individual and are at the forefront of our daily lives. The public servants providing an education and those keeping the peace in our community often go unnoticed. Remember to thank them when you see them, especially around the holidays.

Additionally, I hosted the Department of Children and Family Services Director, George Sheldon, in Freeport last week and invited some of our local service providers and DCFS regional staff. It has been many years since a DCFS Director was in our area to address the staff and providers, let alone visit one of the providers as Executive Director Sheldon did with me. A special thanks to Director Cara Williams and her entire staff at the Norman C. Sleezer Home in Freeport for welcoming Director Sheldon and me to tour your facility.

Amy Morris and Autumn Kubatzke of the Regional Access and Mobilization Project (RAMP) met with me to keep me updated on the legislative side of their Center for Independent Living (CIL). RAMP was the second CIL in Illinois, and they advocate for policies that assist people with disabilities in directing and living independent lives. Regardless of disability, RAMP, promotes (and I support) an agenda where everyone has the same range of choices in housing, transportation, education and employment.

The Jo Daviess County Mayors Association invited me to attend their monthly dinner, and this one was held in Stockton at Stella’s CafĂ© and Catering. Thank you to the McGovern family for hosting us. The Mayors and Village Presidents representing their communities across Jo Daviess County are the definition of public servants. They often serve in part-time positions, with little compensation, and have dedicated themselves to the betterment of their city, village, or town.

Finally, I had the privilege of presenting to the Stephenson County Leadership Institute led by Alan Wenzel at Highland Community College, and I can tell you every year I grow more impressed with the program. Participants engage in a nine month program that covers a variety of community issues and leadership perspectives. It is an incredible feeling to watch the next generation and experienced professionals take leadership roles in local businesses and non-profit organizations alike.

The upcoming holidays and the past two weeks have revitalized my sense of public service and charity. I hope and encourage all of you to do two things: volunteer your time to any cause you choose and provide a random act of kindness to a stranger. Thanksgiving this past week always reminds me of the many blessings we have to be thankful for and following is a quote from President Franklin D. Roosevelt which brings this to mind, “We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon.”

As always, you can reach myself 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.

State Representative Brian Stewart (R-Freeport) gathered with law enforcement agencies from around Northwest Illinois on Wednesday as part of his annual legislative advisory meeting. Rep. Stewart shared last years legislative efforts in reforming law enforcement along with answering questions about the new body camera regulations.

Law enforcement agencies in attendance shared their concerns with current laws and discussed possible new legislation to help ensure citizen safety.
Suddenly reasonable is not enough 

For months, opposition to change here in Springfield has called for “reasonable” discussions and compromise surrounding the budgetary process.  It’s clear by the actions taken during session this past week, with a compromise very much on the table, that majority Democrats in the House have absolutely no intention of compromising.

I have maintained throughout the entire budget impasse that compromise is essential to changing the direction our state is on.  This week the Rauner Administration compromised on several issues.

The first, Governor Rauner acted in good faith to restore eligibility for the overwhelming majority of families receiving child care assistance.  Compromised language supported by the Governor brings CCAP eligibility up to 162 percent of the federal poverty level.  This is a reasonable compromise that protects child care for hard working families, while at the same time holding the line on spending.

Secondly, Governor Rauner announced that the Determination of Need (DON) Score used to determine eligibility for long-term care will be not increasing.  Instead, the State will use the existing DON Score of 29 to ensure the elderly and most vulnerable citizens receive appropriate care.

Lastly, with the State now in the fifth month of Fiscal Year 2016 without an approved budget in place, many important appropriations have been left in limbo.  HB 4305 would provide the appropriation authority necessary to distribute motor fuel tax receipts to local governments. These funds are vitally important to municipalities and townships for local road projects and public safety.  The Governor urged passage of legislation to appropriate MFT, 9-1-1 services, police training and additional public safety funds, which the House passed with bipartisan support, 115-1-1, while in session on Tuesday.

While there are plenty of Representatives on the other side of the aisle that believe compromise and bipartisanship must be upheld in order to solve the fiscal woes of Illinois, they showed their true agenda this past week, politics.  The compromise was accomplished without the need of legislation, which is how things should be done, but for political reasons was still called for a vote.

It was honor an to deliver the keynote address for the Veterans Day Celebration at Blackhawk School.  I’d like to especially thank Sheriff Snyders, the Air-One Coalition Crew Nick Miller, Bob Eldridge and Jim Norton as they provided me a safe flight to the event via helicopter after a brief fly-around of Freeport.  Upon arrival the students burst out chanting “USA” and the tribute to the veterans was underway.  The 333rd Military Police Company was also on site to allow students to look at their Humvees and view the helicopter flight and landing.

The program was organized by Jeff Lehman, Principal Stacey Kleindl, and Committee Chair Peggy Tell.  All were absolutely outstanding.  I want to congratulate the faculty, parents and students of the school as well.  Most importantly, a special "Thanks" for their service to all the veterans who attended.  It was a very special tribute and honor to all veterans!

Remembering the sacrifices that the men and women of this country have endured to protect our freedoms is vital in understanding the very freedoms we possess.  Father Dennis Edward O'Brien, USMC, said it best by stating "It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.  It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.  It is the soldier, not the organizer, who gave us the freedom to demonstrate.  It is the soldier, who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag.  And whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag."

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.

 Standing Firm for the Future

When are you going to pass a budget? That is the number one question my office receives on a daily basis.  I have spoken with many people who have been directly affected by this political process.  The most vulnerable citizens in Illinois have been used as political pawns to put pressure on legislators to give up on changing Illinois for the better.  People who do not have a voice are being told there is no money to help take care of their specific needs until a budget is passed.

I hear them even if they feel like they are not being heard.  The legislation that is being brought forth for a vote to “help” these people and programs is a political trap set by House Speaker Madigan.  If it was not a trap, then the Democrat supermajority would have already appropriated for these services.  Neither Governor Rauner nor the super party controls the legislative agenda or has the power to call legislation for a vote.  Even though they have a supermajority in both chambers and could end this impasse tomorrow, they choose not to.

Why? It’s not because Governor Rauner wants “non-budgetary” items passed first, which they say are budget related however the Governor has already dropped almost all issues except for a few.  It’s because House Speaker Madigan wants to show Governor Rauner who is in charge.  Plus, Speaker Madigan is going to need a massive tax increase to help cover a portion of his budget that spends $4 billion more than state revenues.  Add another $2 billion in spending for a delayed budget and now we are going to have to make dramatic cuts as well.

This delayed budget has had other harmful effects on Illinois finances.  Comptroller Leslie Munger told Illinoisans two weeks ago that the State’s unpaid bills, in the absence of budgeted appropriations for FY16, have reached $6.9 billion.  Based on the assumption that no significant changes will alter current trends, the State’s backlog of unpaid bills will be about $8.5 billion by December 31, 2015. What has this done to Illinois’ credit rating? Fitch Ratings, whose credit ratings are closely watched by Wall Street and the global investment community, reduced Illinois’ “general obligation” (GO) bond rating from single-A-minus, the former ranking, to one notch closer to junk-bond status on Monday, October 19.  The new BBB+ rating is only two notches above the lowest investment-grade rating (BBB-) and is three notches above BB+, which signals non-investment-grade (“junk bond”) status.  Illinois’ GO bond rating is the lowest among the 50 states.

Following Fitch’s downgrade, Moody’s Investor Services downgraded its ratings on Illinois bonds. Moody’s downgraded Illinois outstanding $27 billion of GO bonds to Baa1 from A3, while also lowering ratings on the state’s sales-tax (Build Illinois) bonds to Baa1 from A3, and on the state’s subject to appropriation bonds to Baa2 from Baa1.  The outlook for all of these obligations remains negative.

Even worse, Moody’s reduced credit ratings for six State universities last week.  The downgrades reduced the credit ratings of, and increased the interest rates due and payable by, six Illinois universities.  The affected institutions were Eastern Illinois University (EIU), Governors State University (GSU), Northern Illinois University (NIU), Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU), Southern Illinois University (SIU), and Western Illinois University (WIU).  The New York-based credit rating firm attributed the decision to the budget turmoil facing Illinois.

However, some movement has been made between the four leaders.  Governor Rauner will chair a public meeting with legislative leaders on Nov. 18.  We should be meeting every day until we have a budget, but some progress is better than none.  The meeting is expected to examine the delayed FY16 budget process.  The State has continued to operate under consent decrees, court orders, continuing appropriations, and school appropriations, which has created many operational problems.  Recipients of State services, and providers of goods and services to the State, have all been affected by the lack of a legal budget document.

I have said from the beginning that this is going to be a fight for a better Illinois.  Not everyone always agreed with President Lincoln, but he believed in what he stood for.  He once stated, “Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm”.  I am and will always continue to stand firm for the future of Illinois.