Saving Illinois' Identity

***Guest Column***

Each week many of you send me responses to my column. They range anywhere from “Great column, Brian!” to “What the heck were you thinking, Brian!” and everything in between. I read all your responses. And even if we are diametrically opposed on a given issue, I absolutely appreciate your comments!

That being said, I am honored to be your State Representative and your voice in Springfield. That’s part of the reason why I write this column – so I can hear your responses. So I say this: “Keep them coming.” Keep sending me your comments, and I’ll keep writing this column.

Last week we talked about how Illinois needs a complete overhaul. In baseball terms, we called it a complete rebuild. Allow me to glean one more thing from the Cubs in this week’s column. When the Cubs rebuilt their team they also rebuilt their stadium. The stadium had become a relic (in both good and bad ways). The facilities were completely outdated, and fans complained that they were afraid the stadium would collapse.


By the same token, Wrigley Field has always been an experience. No one wanted a new stadium to be built, because the Cubs’ identity was attached to their ballpark. So what did the Cubs do? They rebuilt Wrigley from the inside. The Cubs and Wrigley Field were able to rebuild and reinforce the necessary structural elements while still maintaining their identity. The ivy in the outfield stayed, but a video board in left-center field helped to modernize the aging stadium.

Just as the Cubs modernized Wrigley Field without removing the roots that made the stadium so great, so must Illinois remember that no matter how much of an overhaul our state needs, there are still elements that must remain.

Illinois’ backbone has been – and always will be – small businesses. While politicians come and go, many of our state’s small businesses have weathered the storm of Illinois’ political battles. In fact, many small businesses have managed to thrive in a state that seemingly has nothing to offer them.

I’m not happy to say that oftentimes our state government does more to hurt than help small businesses. When Chicago politicians talk about a “millionaire’s tax,” it may sound good on paper. More revenue for the state? Sure, in the short term. But the implications of such proposals are more far-reaching than they can possibly imagine.

In the 89th District, most of us would not live here if it weren’t for agriculture and agri-business. Only a small percentage of us in Northwest Illinois are actually farmers, but many of us are indirectly working because of the economic impact of farming. To a certain degree, all of us are impacted by farmers – and by extension, legislation pertaining to agriculture.

So when Chicago politicians propose legislation that wouldn’t bother most city millionaires, they don’t bat an eye. But as for Northwest Illinois, legislation that hurts farmers will hurt all of us. The “death tax” hurts Illinois farmers, and oftentimes it forces farmers to sell generational family farms.

An additional “millionaire’s tax” would make the burden even greater, and many family farms just wouldn’t be able to survive because of it. In a Chicago Tribune article “Illinois Death Tax Hits Family Farmers Where It Hurts,” the author notes that many corporate entities are immune to such a tax. It’s local farmers that shoulder much of the tax burden. With the “death tax” already killing many family farms, a “millionaire’s tax” would certainly devastate the surviving farms.

It’s important that we in Northwest Illinois are unified on ag-related legislation. Our region’s future is tied to the impact of such legislation. When family farms are hurt, local small businesses also feel the pain. Many of our small towns throughout the region have little downtowns that are fighting to stay alive. If local farmers are forced to leave the industry, how do those downtown shops keep their doors open?

But know this, Chicago politicians don’t care about family farmers. They don’t care about anything west of I-294. What they care about is bailing out a failed Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) pension fund that was never intended to be solvent. What they care about is taking tax dollars from downstate and putting them into the hands of a pension fund that was always intended to necessitate a bailout. Our local farmers would never get a bailout, so why should they?

We cannot afford to change our identity. We are the Prairie State – not the Chicago State. Though I appreciate Chicago’s positive impact on our state’s economy, its politicians have a negative impact on our state’s finances. Much of Illinois’ identity is downstate, and our local family farmers are the backbone of this region.

An Illinois without family farms would be like Wrigley Field without the ivy. We would not be who we are as a state without farmers. As the Polish Proverb says “If the farmer is poor, then so is the whole country.”

My staff will be holding mobile office hours in the following communities: Lena October 4, 2016 noon to 3:00 at the Lena Public Library, Pecatonica October 5, 2016 11:00 to 2:00 at the Pecatonica Public Library, and Durand October 6, 2016 11:00 to 2:00 at the Durand Village Hall. Hope to see you there.

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.