Brian's Column 4-29-2016



***Guest Column***


Last week was a busy one in Springfield. Things are moving again. Rank-and-file members of both parties negotiated a deal at the lunch table to send emergency funds to colleges, universities and students across Illinois. It was a temporary fix, but I’m optimistic that both sides are beginning to agree on things. The Governor signed the appropriation measure Senate Bill 2059 into law this week which released $600 million from the State’s Education Assistance Fund. The Comptroller has stated that although there is only $345 million in the Education Assistance Fund, it is enough to immediately pay student MAP grants and she will work closely with colleges and universities to avoid further cuts and closings. The Education Assistance Fund should have the $600 million on hand by June 30th.

It’s amazing how we solve problems when we work together. For too long, it has been a battle between the Speaker and the Governor. The most vulnerable people in this state rely on us to get the job done. It saddens me that these people have become collateral damage in this ten month long fight. This week I saw a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel, but there are still a lot of things to discuss.

Earlier last week, the House voted on a massive tax hike on small businesses. If you are a business owner or simply a citizen who’s against taxes, rest assured our Republican opposition guaranteed that the bill failed to pass, but it is an example of the challenges we face. State government can do more with taxpayer dollars. We need to ask ourselves if we’re spending wisely before saying that we need to take more from the citizens of Illinois.

Illinois has some of the highest sales and property taxes in the United States. The state’s sales tax is the tenth highest in the country. When you combine those two tax levies, the outcome is a crushing burden on small businesses. Some small businesses may be able to afford an additional ten percent tax, but the majority struggle to break-even.

Thankfully, Illinois has a low income tax rate as its saving grace. Experts have said that the proposal would bring Illinois up to the third most taxed state in the country, behind New York and New Jersey. I am afraid that if we were to raise income taxes on the seventy percent of small businesses, it would eliminate our last competitive advantage and there would be no reason for an entrepreneur to set up shop in Illinois.

This is no time for knee-jerk Constitutional Amendments. We haven’t researched the effects of this legislation. In other states, similar taxes have failed miserably. The General Assembly should consider the unintended consequences experienced by states which enacted similar legislation. In New Jersey for instance, the State Treasury found that the taxes drove out approximately 20,000 taxpayers and the state lost $2.5 billion in tax revenue. Flat out, it’s a bad policy that doesn’t work.

Senate President John Cullerton floated an idea to install a tracking device in your vehicle and charge you for every mile that you drive. I was opposed to this legislation from the get-go. His argument was that the roads are in terrible condition and there isn’t enough money to fix them. The Motor Fuel tax, that we already collect, is intended to pay for road repairs. The problem is that past administrations have swept the road fund and spent that money on things other than roads and bridges. I have said it before; we can do more with what we have. We just need to spend wisely. I am very happy that the taxpayers spoke out against this attempted overreach. Because of the public outcry, Senate President John Cullerton announced he will not move forward with his plan to track everyone’s mileage.

Even with these outlandish ideas like a tracking device in your car or a massive tax hike, I still think our compromise last week was a small win for everyone in this state. For ten months, this tug-of-war match has kept us from moving forward. Last week however, I saw signs that the rank-and-file members of the General Assembly are able to work together. I have a little more faith that we can have a civil debate and constructive conversation about the issues facing Illinois.

Last week’s session reminds me of a quote by Colin Powell who stated, “But just as they did in Philadelphia when they were writing the constitution, sooner or later, you’ve got to compromise. You’ve got to start making the compromises that arrive at a consensus to move the country forward.” Just maybe last week was a start to move Illinois forward.

As always, you can reach me 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.