Brian's Column 02-18-2016

 Obama and Budget Address

View from the 89th District's House Seat (Rep. Stewart)
President Obama addressed the Illinois General Assembly last week for the first time.  While a number of sitting American presidents have visited Springfield and the Illinois State Capitol Building, only four have given addresses to joint sessions of the legislature.  The last President to speak in front of the General Assembly was Jimmy Carter in May of 1978.  Herbert Hoover spoke in June of 1931, and William Howard Taft addressed Illinois legislators in February of 1911.

It was a very interesting day in the Illinois Legislature when President Barack Obama came to Springfield and addressed a joint session of the Illinois House and Senate.  It is historical in the sense that a sitting President addressed the General Assembly in Illinois or any other state for that matter.  Regardless of your politics, party, ideology or whether or not you support his agenda his remarks were insightful as to what is going on in Illinois and in this country for that matter.

President Obama and Rep. Brian Stewart shake hands. 
 Though I may not agree with those policies, I will always be respectful to the President of the United States no matter what political party he/she belongs to.  For President Obama to come to my desk to shake my hand and those of my colleagues was an honor.  A picture of that handshake was the photo of the day for The White House website and Facebook page.  If you are wondering what I wanted to say to him and since I am taller than he is I said “I could take him in a pick-up game of basketball and the wager was when I beat him he would promise to provide enough federal funds for 4 lanes from Freeport all the way to Iowa.”

In all seriousness, President Obama made some important remarks about bipartisan respect, fair legislative maps, and increased voter participation.  I believe with the right approach, legislators can use President Obama’s visit to move the needle towards “building better politics” here in Illinois.

The ongoing budget impasse is part of that building process.  Time continues to pass as Illinois has now gone 8 months without a budget.  The fact remains that the people of Illinois want the status quo to be terminated.  Springfield leadership has not been responsible with taxpayer dollars and passing budgets that spend $4 billion more than revenues is a major problem.

Governor Rauner outlined his budget options to the Illinois General Assembly during his annual Budget Address this week.  One plan involves working together on a comprehensive approach and the other involves deeper cuts.  Either way, the Governor is ready to act, and it’s time Springfield leadership gets serious about how they plan to balance the budget.

Governor Bruce Rauner delivers his annual Budget Address
According to the Illinois Department of Revenue, if our revenues grew at the national average since Fiscal Year 2000, we would have generated an additional $19 billion total in surplus revenue even without the 2011 tax hike.  That means with just average growth, there’d be no bill backlog, no budget crisis and more resources for schools, Medicaid and social service providers.

 It’s not too late to act.  According to the Department’s projections, if we come together and pass structural reforms, we can still save billions over the next five years.  That’s more money for our schools, social services, roads and bridges and ultimately, more money for the citizens of Illinois – in their pockets where it belongs.

The idea that the bigger we grow government the better we can serve taxpayers is erroneous. Illinois could serve as the poster child for bad government.  I hope that my constituents and the people of Illinois can understand that no matter how Springfield leadership paints Illinois’ budget woes, we need a reformed system and that starts and ends with passing a balanced budget that spends less than what we take in, and from my understanding Illinois has not had a balanced budget in more than 30 years.

In the words of President Thomas Jefferson, “History, in general, only informs us of what bad government is.”  I implore you to do your research and take a look at what has caused Illinois’ financial problems.  There are no more warnings.  We are living in the mess that the last two decades of bad government created and we are fighting for the future of a better Illinois.  Stay tuned!