Well, 2017 has flown by. Here we are, at the start of another year. Like Christmas, the New Year fills our hearts with hope and possibility. We make resolutions and plans. We commit ourselves to making this year better than the last. I am looking forward to what the New Year will bring for us.

New Year’s Resolutions are not a new phenomenon. The ancient Babylonians brought in the New Year with promises to their gods, while returning borrowed items, and clearing their debts. Romans made promises to the god Janus – get it, Janus for Janu-ary.

The tradition permeated Christianity too. Knights in the Middle Ages would place their hands on a live or roasted peacock, and recommit themselves to the code of chivalry. Christians held watch night services to bring in the New Year in prayer and commitment to make the next year a better one.

The hard part isn’t making plans or resolutions. It’s sticking to them. 41% of Americans make a New Year’s resolution each year (down from 45%). Only 8% of us complete or achieve our resolutions by the end of the year. Only 20% of the people who make New Year’s resolutions succeed! Sometimes people decide not to make resolutions because they’re afraid they won’t complete them. Looking at the numbers, it’s seems a rational fear. What we don’t realize is that the people who do make resolutions, like a resolution to lose weight, are 10 times more likely to succeed than people who want to lose weight but don’t make a resolution.

American colonial minister Jonathan Edwards realized the importance of resolutions when he was a young man. When he was 20 years old, he authored 70 resolutions to keep each year for the rest of his life. He wrote, “Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake,” and added, “Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.”

Making resolutions for the New Year is a good thing. Turkish playwright, Mehmet Murat ildan, says, “What do you need in the New Year? You need a dream; your dream needs an action; and your action needs right thinking! Without right thinking, you can only have unrealized dreams.!” So yes, resolutions are good. The key is determining how to achieve them.

One possible aid was developed in the business world in 1981. George T. Doran, a former Director of Corporate Planning for Washington Water Power Company, published a work called, “There’s a S.M.A.R.T. Way to Write Management’s Goals and Objectives,” introducing SMART goals. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Realistic, and Time-related.

First, we want our resolutions to be Specific. For example, “losing weight,” is less specific than, “I will lose 10 pounds.” In the case of Illinois, instead of “We will pass a balanced budget,” a specific resolution might be, “We will pass a balanced budget without increasing income or property taxes.” It’s definitely a fair resolution. Illinois has the highest total tax burden for the average family more than any other state in the country.

How do we make a resolution Measurable? Quitting smoking is a specific resolution. However, some folks can quit cold turkey, while others struggle. For the latter, a more measurable resolution could be quitting smoking by reducing the number of cigarettes smoked each week until getting to zero. For the state, the balanced budget resolution could be measured by committing to progress benchmarks throughout the session.

Most resolutions are easily Assignable. They’re our resolutions after all. But some involve working with other people. Resolving to improve a family relationship relies, at least in part, on the family member’s participation. In order to achieve a state level resolution for a balanced budget without new income or property taxes, we will cultivate both Democrats and Republicans to create a bipartisan commitment to generate whatever bill or amendments to achieve it.

The crux of achieving any resolution is whether it is Realistic. For many people, becoming a vegan may be an unrealistic goal, especially if they have always enjoyed flavored creamer in their coffee, and eggs for breakfast. Balancing a budget in Illinois without additional income or property taxes will be tough. For some it may seem unrealistic. But it is the right thing to do.

Time-related sounds like something that would be easy. A resolution for the next year is pretty self-explanatory regarding time. Consider a person who wants to lose 10 pounds over the next year. The goal is to have lost 10 pounds by the end of 2018. Perhaps they have large family gatherings over Thanksgiving and Christmas and enjoy Grandma’s homemade banana pudding. That person may find it harder to lose .84 pounds in November and December. They could adjust the timing of their resolution to lose 10 pounds by October, and work not to gain weight in November and December.

The budget bill the state passed last year did not pass in regular session. Several special sessions were called before it passed. Supporters of a resolution to pass a balanced budget without additional income or property taxes should maximize the time we have to climb every step necessary to attain our goal.

It was Abraham Lincoln who said, “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.” I look forward to helping our state achieve a balanced budget without raising our income or property taxes. I wish you success in achieving your resolutions in 2018 and a very Happy New Year!

As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or e-mail us at stewart@ilhousegop.org. You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or on Facebook.

It’s hard to believe how fast another year has gone by, and that Christmas is already here.  I have said it before, and I will say it again, Christmas is a great time of year.  It is full of hope and joy, opportunity and care.  Christmas brings the promise that all things can become new.

Looking back at the past year, we have been very blessed.  We have many committed local public servants working diligently to meet the public trust.  Freeport elected its first woman as mayor, and changed its form of government to better serve the taxpayers.

Our local economy is moving forward with many regional businesses expanding and looking for qualified staff.  MetLife has returned to Freeport!  At my Annual Christmas Party, I was impressed to see so many young professionals who have joined our community of solidly growing businesses.
I had the opportunity to engage with some of these young professionals at the Leadership Institute’s December class held at Highland Community College.  I would like to thank program administrator, Jim Phillips, for inviting us to share our experience with the students.  We spent an hour discussing state government, both its challenges and opportunities for our community.
The questions were thoughtful and spoke volumes about the exceptional quality of the Leadership Institute and its participants.  Our future is bright indeed.

The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, RSVP, once again honored its volunteers for another year of exceptional community service.  Over 4,000 hours were donated to the community with a value of over $1,000,000!  In today’s world, it is easy to be cynical and skeptical about our future.  These folks give us hope that our best days lie ahead.  We are blessed indeed.  Taking stock of our blessings will help us prepare for the New Year of 2018, with all its challenges.

We certainly endured challenges in 2017.  The hope we had last Christmas that Republicans and Democrats in Springfield would put aside partisan blinders and come together to serve the public interest was in fact, not the case.  Instead, we saw a massive tax increase rammed through, picking the pockets of Illinois families in the process.  The average Illinois family now has an overall state and local tax burden that is greater than any state in the country!  We are being overtaxed, with nothing but mountains of unpaid bills to show for it.

Illinoisans have also been saddled with a budget deficit of 1.7 billion dollars for this year alone.  Not only were our wallets stripped, our children and grandchildren will be forced to pay the piper if we do not find another way forward.  With this unbalanced budget came increased charges and fees to local governments and businesses.  These charges are forcing local governments across the state to choose between cutting essential public services or raising our local taxes.

We need to do better in 2018.  We deserve better.  I am committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass a balanced budget, economic development incentives, cost saving measures, property tax reform, a fully funded capital plan geared towards renewing and expanding our infrastructure to better serve all of Illinois, and to finally have serious discussions on welfare reform including photo identification.

This Christmas reminds me of two quotes, the first by Bob Hope who said “When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things - not the great occasions - give off the greatest glow of happiness.” And the second by Joel Osteen who said “Christmas is the perfect time to celebrate the love of God and family and to create memories that will last forever.  Jesus is God’s perfect, indescribable gift.  The amazing thing is that not only are we able to receive this gift, but we are able to share it with others on Christmas and every other day of the year.”

I wish you all enjoy a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday season.  As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or e-mail us at stewart@ilhousegop.org.  You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or on Facebook.

Joined the Northwest Illinois Criminal Justice Commission meeting in Sterling! We discussed training opportunities, current issues, and future legislation.

I was honored to congratulate and recognize FHN's Dr. Rebecca Pedersen with the 2017 Illinois Rural Physician Excellence Award and to commend her for her selfless service and dedication to her patients and our community with Illinois House of Representatives Resolution 701.

SB 403 provides credit of up to $750 for eligible taxpayers

CHICAGO (Nov. 16, 2017) — Gov. Bruce Rauner signed into law today a tax credit worth up to $750 for property owners in 18 Illinois counties where flood damages were sustained in July.

The bill, signed at the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago this morning, creates a natural disaster credit that eligible, affected property owners may apply to their 2017 Illinois income taxes. 

Included counties are Cook, Lake, Kane, McHenry, Alexander, Clinton, Jackson, Marshall, Union, Woodford, Carroll, Henry, Jo Daviess, Lee, Ogle, Rock Island, Stephenson and Whiteside — all of which were declared state disaster areas by the governor last summer. 

“July’s severe storms pushed rivers and lakes over their banks across a wide swath of Illinois,” Rauner said. “Many home and business owners are still working to restore their properties after the inundation of water, debris and mud they suffered through, in some cases for weeks. In northeastern Illinois counties, the flooding was unprecedented. This tax credit offers a measure of much-needed relief.”

State Rep. Barbara Wheeler said the tax credit will be welcome news.

“Unfortunately for many families impacted by this type of disaster, once the initial shock wears off, the reality of financial hardship caused by the devastation can be just as traumatic as the event itself,” said Wheeler, R-Crystal Lake. “In the past, state government has not always responded quickly enough to provide the relief needed for this financial stress. 

However, this time the governor and legislature acted quickly, and I know many of the families still trying to recover are grateful.”

State Rep. Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, agreed.

“I appreciate the governor taking quick action to sign the Flood Victims Tax Credit into law,” McCombie said. “Victims of the floods this year did not receive federal assistance, so this incentive is a small measure we can take to help and be good neighbors.”

“This summer’s flooding was devastating to many northern Illinois residents,” said state Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods. “This tax credit is one more tool in the toolbox.”

“While some residents have recovered, many are still working to rebuild,” said state Sen. Melinda Bush, D-Grayslake. “This tax credit will help ease the financial burden and help local residents get back on their feet.”

Qualified properties include a taxpayer’s principle residence or land owned by a small business, but not a rental or leasing business. The allowable income tax credit will be the lesser of $750 or the deduction allowed under the Internal Revenue Code for each taxpayer who owns qualified property in a county declared a state disaster area.

The bill provides that township assessors shall issue eligibility certificates for appropriately requesting property owners, and that assessors shall certify to the Illinois Department of Revenue listings of flood-damaged properties.

The fiscal impact to the state is estimated at $4.6 million, based on damages previously reported to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

# # #
I had the opportunity to talk with fellow Veterans and Representatives David Harris (R-Arlington Heights), Jeane Ives (R-Wheaton), and Dan Swanson (R-Alpha) about our time serving and what it means to us. Thank you to all those who served, thank you to their families, and may we honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

House Bill 4147 gives DCFS workers the same protections as police and firemen 

Springfield…Today, State Representative Brian Stewart (R-Freeport) filed House Bill 4147 to make attacking a DCFS workers in performance of their duties an aggravated battery and a Class 1 felony.   
House Bill 4147, filed this week, would make battering a Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) in the performance of his/her official duties or in response to their official duties an aggravated battery and a Class 1 felony.  Aggravated battery subject perpetrators to more severe penalties when facing prosecution and sentencing.
“My deepest sympathies and get well-wishes go out to the victim of this horrible attack, her family and everyone in her DCFS family.  Everyday DCFS workers put themselves at risk to protect the most vulnerable children in our communities,” said Rep. Stewart. “This legislation will give DCFS workers the same protections as policemen, firemen, and peace officers who also put themselves in harm’s way.”    
This legislation is in response to the September 29th tragedy where a 59-year-old DCFS worker in Milledgeville was checking on a child when she was viciously assaulted by the child’s father.
State Representatives Tony McCombie (R-Savanna) and Tom Demmer (R-Dixon), and John Cabello (R-Rockford) who will be co-sponsoring HB 4147, expressed their support of this legislation.
“I continue to pray for the victim of this senseless act of violence. It’s unfortunate an act of violence was inflicted on a DCFS worker in order for legislation to be proposed, however, this bill will to give DCFS workers the additional legal protections they deserve,” said Rep. McCombie.
“It’s unfortunate that this type of measure is needed, but the safety of these state employees charged with protecting child welfare is paramount.  Their work in protecting children and stepping into dangerous situations warrant additional penalty for those who cause them harm in the performance of their duties,” said Rep. Demmer.
Current law makes it an aggravated battery and a Class 1 felony offense when the suspect causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or disfigurement to peace officers, community policing volunteers, firemen, private security officers, correctional institution employees, or certain Department of Human Services employees.


It was my honor to congratulate the 2017 Quadcross World Champion Chad Wienen of Galena, Illinois this week.

It is always a great experience welcoming foreign diplomats to Northwest Illinois. This afternoon I had the pleasure of hosting a group from ZIMBABWE who were here under the auspices of the US State Dept International Visitor Leadership Program. They were Mr. Obey Shava, Legal Practitioner; Mr. Kenneth Mtata, Zimbabwe Council of Churches; Loreen Sani, Combined Harare Residents Association; Claris Madhuku, Director Platform for Youth Development; Kurai Makumbe, Chief - Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission; Patience Zirima, Director Media Monitors; Gerald Matiba, Director, Christian Legal Society; and Wilson Nharingo, Director Zimbabwe Liberators Platform. After a great discussion on managing elections, and a visit to the Lincoln Douglas Debate Site, lunch of course at Union Dairy.

This afternoon I had the distinct honor and humbling privilege to present along with Senator Tim Bivins, Representative Tom Demmer and Congressman Adam Kinzinger - Illinois Senate Joint Resolution 34 honoring the life of Marine Lance Corporal Alec Catherwood, who at 19 years of age sacrificed his life in service to our freedom and was killed in combat in Afghanistan. To his parents, Kirk & Gretchen Catherwood and his entire family we are grateful for his honorable and faithful service to our nation.

Dixon… State Representatives Tom Demmer (R-Dixon), Tony McCombie (R-Savanna), and Brian Stewart (R-Freeport) urged prayers and community awareness following a brutal attack on a DCFS Child Protective Investigator at a child welfare check on Friday, September 29th in Carroll County.

The three legislators offered the following statement today:

“This tragic attack highlights the dangers faced by our child welfare officers every day and the profound need to continue to educate communities on eliminating violence, especially domestic violence.  Along with our fellow legislators, we offer our prayers to the family of the DCFS Investigator, as well as to her co-workers and fellow employees who are saving lives in Illinois’ child welfare system every day.  This is terribly frightening and traumatizing for all of our hardworking Child Protective Investigators, but this incident shows how important their work is in protecting children from violence and harm.”

Freeport…. State Representative Brian Stewart released the following statement in reaction to Governor Rauner signing HB 40: 
“Today Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed House Bill 40, which provides taxpayer funding for abortions.  Using taxpayer money for abortions means that people who hold a sincere moral opposition to abortion will now be forced to pay for them, which essentially takes away choice for all my pro-life constituents,” said Rep. Stewart.  “In a time when Illinois has $15 billion in unpaid bills this is neither the time nor the place to start a new government program estimated to cost tens of millions of dollars.  Our state is facing unprecedented challenges, and this bill only adds to those challenges. ”  
Honored this afternoon to welcome to the Lamoreux Farms in Northwest Illinois a delegation from China to promote public private cooperation for Agriculture with Illinois farmers. 

The delegation was led by Mr. Lubiao ZHANG the Deputy Director General of the China Ministry of Agriculture. The team from China consisted of Mr. Weibing GU, Division Director of International Cooperation; Ms. Dian JIAO, Deputy Division Director; Mr. Chao LI, Deputy Division Director Ministry of Finance; Mr. Guomin ZHOU, Deputy Director General Agricultural Information Institute; and Ms. Yiwei YIN, Interpreter. 

The Illinois Beef Association was represented by Joni Bucher, President of the IBA Board of Governors and Reid Blossom, Executive Vice President. Lou,Sue & Nathan Lamoreux and John, Marilyn & Dan Lamoreux and their families and staff did an outstanding job and are just one of the many excellent representatives of Illinois Farming !!

Rep Stewart attended the ComEd Ribbon Cutting on September 14th for their newest Smart Meter Deployment Center and installation of one of Freeport's first smart meters. The great staff at ComEd has begun installing over 33,000 smart meters in the area.

Equifax, an Atlanta based credit-rating agency, suffered a security breach on July 29th that exposed sensitive information of millions of Americans. Such information included social security numbers, driver’s license numbers, credit card numbers, birthdays, and addresses. It has been determined that 5.4 million Illinois residents have been affected by the breach.

The company has set up a website where you can check if your personal information was affected by the breach: www.equifaxsecurity2017.com.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan has opened an investigation into the recent security breach, and called on Equifax to provide free credit freezes to all Illinois residents in the wake of the breach. She urges Illinois residents to take the Equifax breach seriously and take steps to protect themselves from the possibility of identity theft:

  • Seriously consider placing a credit freeze on your credit reports with all 3 consumer reporting agencies: TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax;
  • Regularly request your free credit reports, inspect them closely, and promptly dispute any unauthorized accounts;
  • Inspect all financial account statements closely and promptly dispute any unauthorized charges;
  • Consider placing alerts on your financial accounts so your financial institution alerts you when money above a pre-designated amount is withdrawn;
  • Beware of potential phishing emails; don't open any email messages or attachments from unknown senders and do not click on any unknown links. Fraudsters will frequently send coercive and misleading emails threatening account suspension or worse if sensitive information is not provided. Remember, businesses will never ask customers to verify account information via email. If in do6ubt, contact the business in question directly for verification and to report phishing emails; and
  • Be on the lookout for spoofed email addresses. Spoofed email addresses are those that make minor changes in the domain name, frequently changing the letter O to the number zero, or the lowercase letter l to the number one. Scrutinize all incoming email addresses to ensure that the sender is truly legitimate.
With questions on the data breach, you can contact Equifax at 866-447-7559, or the Illinois Attorney General’s Identity Theft Hotline at 1 (866) 999-5630.
During the past few weeks much has occurred in the General Assembly and it has been covered by the news media from many different points of view.  However, the fact remains that a massive, permanent tax hike was shoved down the throats of the working Illinoisans, their families and small business owners. The personal income tax rate increased from 3.75 to 4.95% which is a 32% increase and the largest permanent income tax increase in state history.  The corporate income tax rate increased from 5.25% to 7%.  In case any of you were wondering I voted NO on the tax increase.  

Stephenson County homeowners interested in learning about the process for determining property taxes are invited to attend a forum on Tuesday, June 27th sponsored by State Representative Brian Stewart and featuring Stephenson County Chief Assessment Officer Ron Kane.

Students between grades 1 through 5 are encouraged to participate in the “Become a Readasaurus” reading club. To take part in this program, please contact your local library to obtain a brochure on the program or print out the document above.

Participants will be asked to read eight books over the course of the summer. Readers who complete the program and return the pamphlet by July 29th will be eligible to participate in an ice cream party and will be presented with an official certificate from the Illinois House of Representatives.

Materials have been placed at libraries throughout Northwest Illinois to make the program accessible to all children in the district, or you can print out the attached portion to get started today. If you have any questions, please contact our office at 815-232-0774.
The General Assembly failed to pass a budget during regular session this year.  That disappointment was felt by Illinoisans across the state – especially those who rely on the necessary social services that our state is currently neglecting.  In my opinion, there is no other word to better describe this ridiculous situation other than “unacceptable.”  It truly is unacceptable.  This inaction prolongs suffering and does nothing to address the very real problems that our state currently faces.

Last week we talked about the ongoing budget battle.  All of us are very aware of the deleterious consequences that stem from operating without a budget.  Necessary social services and our education systems are suffering because of the impasse, and Springfield politicians are earning themselves some much deserved heat from constituents.

This week was our last chance to reach an agreement on the budget before the legislative session came to a close. This week we passed bill after bill – but none of those bills were a budget. Though we currently find ourselves without a resolution to the budget crisis, there is still some hope that an agreement can be reached during a special summer session.

As I write this column, we are still learning about the Illinois Senate’s so-called “Grand Bargain.” In next week’s column we will explore the Grand Bargain, but this week I’d like to focus on what happened in the House.

In the past two months, the General Assembly has voted to spend nearly two billion dollars. And no, these are not appropriations that go to pay down the deficit.  These aren’t even funds that take the place of the budget.  This is money that will be added to our already $5 billion spending gap.

Are you ready for some positive news? The American economy is surging forward thanks to recent economic growth.  In fact, the jobless rate is the lowest it has been since 2007.  The national unemployment rate is currently 4.4% - which is even better than the 4.6% number that economists had predicted.

In last week’s column, we talked about HB 40 – a bill that, at face value, expands taxpayer-funded abortions in Illinois. But at its core, the bill’s primary purpose was to force the Governor into a corner – he had to choose between siding with pro-abortion advocates or pro-life advocates. It truly was a game of “Pin the Tail on the Governor.” It should come as no surprise that I voted “No” on HB 40.

So after a week of political gamesmanship, we still don’t have a budget. But what do we have? The House soundly passed a taxpayer-funded abortion expansion. As the House passes toxic bills that do nothing to improve our state, the window on reaching a budget is closing. With only five weeks left until session ends, we are running perilously short on time.
This week I’d like to pose a question to you, and if you have an opinion on the matter, then I would love for you to send me your response. By the way, now would be a good time for me to mention that we have updated our contact information. You can now send communications directly to my office by visiting “www.ilhousegop.org/contactstewart."

Without any further ado here’s the question I’ll pose to you this week: which is more important to you? Taxpayer funded abortions or a balanced budget? Now don’t think too hard because it really isn’t a trick question. And yes, it really is a “this or that” question.

Why? Because instead of continuing to work toward an agreement that could lead toward fiscal certainty and responsibility, House leadership has opted instead to push a bill that reaffirms taxpayer funded abortions. Though there is absolutely no practical reason to bring HB 40 to a vote, some members on the other side of the aisle are relishing an opportunity to put Governor Rauner in a tough spot.

Thankfully, Governor Rauner has not caved to this shameless political ploy. He announced that if both chambers pass this sideshow of a bill, he will put an abrupt end to the political theater by vetoing HB 40. To that I say, “Bravo, Governor Rauner, bravo!” Do you support the Governor’s decision?

I’m not ashamed to say that I am pro-life, and I’m also not ashamed to say that I am anti-political theater. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say this: how about instead of this nonsensical bill that does nothing to help working families, we work on passage of HB 3096 (the Lincoln Douglas Tax Credit) – a bill that would create jobs for Freeport and other cities across the state. Or perhaps we could pick up where we left off and continue negotiating on a budget compromise.

But instead of passing a balanced budget, we find ourselves grappling with an issue that came to the forefront simply because House leadership calculated that it would hurt the Governor’s standing with either pro-life advocates or pro-abortion advocates. Yes indeed, putting the Governor in a political bind is far more important than working to pass a balanced budget.

I’ve said before that the legislature loves nothing more than to play kick the can. I’m beginning to think that I should amend my previous statement and add another game that has been very popular in Springfield lately – pin the tail on the Governor. I mean, why focus on the issues that matter when we have a prime opportunity to stick it to the Governor, right?

Well I’m fed up with the games. We need to immediately resume working on a balanced budget. No more stopgap spending plans that don’t even come close to fully funding social services. No more finger pointing. And especially – no more political theater just for the sake of sticking it to the Governor. From your calls and e-mails I know that the vast majority of you want us to pass a balanced budget, and that’s exactly what I will continue to work toward.

But until such a time as House leadership decides that our state is more important than partisan politics, I’ll continue doing whatever I can to help the district. That’s why this week I invited Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti to Freeport to meet with our newly elected Mayor. And that’s why last week I spoke with the Governor about the needs of some of our local employers. Budget or no budget, I will fight for the best interests of the 89th District. You have my word on that.

And as for the budget, I remain optimistic that we will eventually set aside our differences and work together on a balanced and long term solution. Am I foolish for remaining optimistic? Perhaps. But as Winston Churchill said, “I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.”

As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815-232-0774, or visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com and use the contact form to send me an e-mail.
Please be advised State Representative Brian Stewart will no longer be monitoring the email address repstewart@gmail.com. If you would like to reach the Representative, you are encouraged to fill out the contact form on his state website by clicking here. Thank you for your understanding.

Look forward to hearing from you!
***Guest Column*** 

As many of you know, former Freeport Mayor Richard (Dick) Weis recently passed away. He will forever be remembered in Freeport as the “Big Kahuna” who had the big heart.  If every public servant and politician modeled their life after Dick Weis, the world would undoubtedly be a better place.  It was my honor to present Illinois House Resolution 287 honoring former Mayor Weis’s life and his career of public service – both as an elected official and a private citizen.

If you didn’t know anything else about Dick Weis, all you need to know is what his family has asked of those who wish to honor his memory.  His service information reads: “In lieu of flowers, please honor Dick’s life by doing a random act of kindness for someone in need.”  What a truly wonderful man and what a wonderful family he leaves to carry on his legacy.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned House Bill 3096 – which creates the Lincoln-Douglas Tax Credit for a qualified rehabilitation of a historic structure located in the seven cities of which the Lincoln-Douglas debates occurred.  Since that column, I received several calls and e-mails asking for more information on the bill.

To properly explain the bill in context, we need to take a step back and take a quick look at another successful tax credit – The River Edge Redevelopment Zone Program (RERZ). The RERZ is also sometimes referred to as the “River’s Edge Tax Credit.”

The RERZ tax credit saw enormous success in spurring economic development in five cities: Aurora, East St. Louis, Elgin, Peoria and Rockford.  Landmarks Illinois estimates that between those five cities, over $200 million dollars in private economic development has come as a direct result of that tax credit.  Our neighbors to the east in Rockford have received the lion’s share of that economic boom landing over $120 million in developments with even more expected to come.

Ask just about any downtown Rockford business owner what has contributed to the downtown’s resurgence, and they will tell you – “It’s the River’s Edge tax credit.”  Many of us have enjoyed a meal or perhaps even a beverage at the Prairie Street Brewhouse in downtown Rockford.  The next time you’re eating dinner on the docks and you’re watching the boats float down the Rock River, just remember that none of that would be possible if it were not for the River’s Edge tax credit.  Nearly one dozen projects like this have been made possible through the tax credit.

The RERZ credit became law in 2010, and at the end of last year, Governor Rauner signed an extension to keep the credit alive through the end of this year.  And just this week, the Rockford City Council approved another multimillion dollar project – a downtown hotel – that would have never come to fruition without the existence of the RERZ credit.

It worked for Rockford, so why not Freeport?  That’s why I introduced HB 3096.  My bill would give those seven communities across the state a chance to improve their historical downtowns through a tax credit that is much like the RERZ.  This is something that Illinois’ bigger cities have already had the opportunity to utilize, but up until this bill the mid-sized cities had been left out.  If my bill passes – Ottawa, Freeport, Jonesboro, Charleston, Galesburg, Quincy and Alton would all be eligible for this tax credit.  Currently the six representatives of those other cities (both Republican and Democrat) have signed on to my bill, and I will be working to recruit more co-sponsors in the future.

This bill would be a game-changer not only for Freeport, but also for the entire region.  As we saw in Rockford, when private investments were made in the downtown, employers added jobs. HB 3096 means investment, opportunity and jobs for the 89th District, so that is why I will be working hard to do everything I can to push this extremely important bill.

I can’t help but think of Field of Dreams when we talk about economic development.  The iconic line from the movie was, “If you build it, (they) will come.”  But I guess in this case, the situation is only slightly different.  In this case, the quote should be “If you pass it, they will build.  And if you build it, they will come.”

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.
***Guest Column*** 

This week I wish I could report to you that the Illinois General Assembly passed a long-term solution to the state budget crisis.  Unfortunately, that did not happen.  Instead of fixing the problem, the House voted to pass another stopgap spending plan House Bill 109 – one that funds some of higher education and social services but effectively kicks the budget can down the road for six more months.

This legislation was passed by the House and is headed to the Senate which will most likely vote on the bill later this month.  To be clear, this bill does nothing to address any of the problems Illinois is facing other than education and social services – and even those are being addressed inadequately.  The Governor called the stopgap spending plan a “failure.”  He shares the same opinion as many of us in the legislature who want a balanced budget that actually ensures, as he says, “the problem (can be) fixed.”

Though I was disappointed to see the passage of yet another “duct tape fix,” as the Governor refers to the stopgap measure, there was some positive legislation that came out of Springfield this week.  Earlier this year I introduced HB 465, a bill that would amend the municipal code to extend Pearl City’s tax increment financing (TIF) district which is set to expire.  I am pleased to announce that the bill passed the House and will be presented to the Senate by Senator Bivins.

Another bill that received a lot of attention this week was HB 496.  This bill, which passed the House almost unanimously, would allow voters the right to dissolve a township by referendum. The township and municipality must be coterminous (or mostly coterminous) for this to happen, and the township trustees or 10% of registered voters in the township must initiate the referendum.

I received some calls this week that involved some misunderstanding surrounding the bill.  To clarify, there is no automatic consolidation attached to this bill.  The bill merely gives citizens the right to choose whether or not they wish to operate a Township if their municipality could provide the same services.

It's not every day that you see a bill of such magnitude passing the Illinois House with only two objections, but this bill was seen as an obvious choice for many in the General Assembly.  Illinois has more units of government – almost 7,000 – than any other state.  According to the Illinois Policy Institute, these units of government create a cumbersome bureaucracy that drives up property taxes statewide.

By contrast, Florida (which has a higher population than Illinois) has roughly one quarter the units of government compared to Illinois.  It is also little coincidence that Illinois – the state that has more units of government than any other state – has been found to have the highest overall tax burden of any state.

Each year WalletHub conducts a state by state study of effective tax rates.  Their findings include all state and local taxes and rank each state by taxpayer-friendliness.  According to the study, Alaska is the most taxpayer-friendly state with an overall effective tax rate of 5.64%.  Illinois finished dead last – ranking 51st, with our overall effective tax rate estimated to be 14.76%.

After seeing this, it should come as no surprise that our state is losing population to our neighbors.  We must address this growing problem, and I believe that this week we took a small step towards doing just that.  Now it’s time for the Senate to pass this bill so Illinoisans can decide for themselves.

Though I am encouraged about some small victories this week, I find myself repeating the same refrain I have been singing since I first was elected to the Illinois House – we need a balanced budget!  Then – and only then – can we become successful in bringing our state back and making Illinois a better place for all of us.

This week, the House made a mistake in not working on a long-term solution to the budget, but we also took a positive step on the journey of reforming Illinois.  I am proud to see that there was bipartisan support – almost unanimous support – behind a commonsense reform bill this week. But we still have a long way to go. As someone once said, “To get through the hardest journey, we need take only one step at a time… but we must keep on stepping.”

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.