***Guest Column*** 

We all know that Illinois is in a state of turmoil. We’ve been guilty of kicking the can down the road one too many times, and for decades we have been neglecting our pension payment obligations. I’ll be the first to say that I don’t envy the Governor’s current position.

This past week Governor Rauner gave his annual budget address. In his speech, the Governor laid out his spending plan for the next fiscal year. Some of his numbers relied on the State Senate to continue negotiations in an attempt to fill a budget gap, and the rest relied on anticipated revenues.

There is little debating the fact that Illinois doesn’t have enough funds flowing in to pay all of our bills. The only question is how are we going to fill that void. To his credit, the Governor has shown a refusal to play another game of kick the can. Previous Governors have relied on accounting gimmicks that raided the transportation and other funds, but Governor Rauner is determined to come up with a long-term solution to a far too long ignored problem.

So where does this leave us? The Governor signaled that it is necessary for the Senate to continue their budget negotiations to achieve a balanced budget. We’ve already seen good progress on that front, though some proposals that have been floated were almost universally opposed.

One of the points where the Governor left no room for debate was in adding to the financial burden born by lower-income families and fixed-income seniors. This means that proposals which included taxing retirement income – or raising taxes on food and medicine – would all be opposed by the Governor.

It’s safe to say that we will probably not have a budget until the Senate has reached an agreement, but an agreement is perhaps not as far off as some might think. As I’ve said before, the Senate has never been closer to a budget compromise. Senate President John Cullerton and Republican Senate Leader Christine Radogno have been meeting regularly, and we can only hope that their meetings will result in an agreement.

Bi-partisan compromise is the only vehicle that can drive us out of this mess. I’ll say it again and again: the Governor can’t fix the state’s budget by himself. It’s going to take Republicans and Democrats working together for the good of the state. Thankfully, that is exactly what we have been seeing, and that gives me hope for the future.

The one thing that we should all remember is that a balanced budget isn’t just about getting your finances to look good on a sheet of paper – it’s about confidence. When businesses know that Illinois is serious about meeting our obligations and serious about keeping our fiscal house in order, then we can expect to see economic growth.

Put yourself in the shoes of someone who is thinking about purchasing a house in a city whose city hall is so dysfunctional that the council can’t agree to a budget. Would you feel confident about buying that house? Even if that house had everything you wanted, it would still have an ominous question mark lingering over it.

For the most part, that’s how many businesses see Illinois. I can only imagine a board meeting in which the question is asked “Why would we even move to Illinois when Wisconsin and Indiana have balanced budgets? We have no idea what new taxes Illinois will place on us the minute we locate there.”

Not only am I thinking about companies that are considering moving here, I also have to think about those companies who are considering leaving Illinois out of fear for the future. That’s not even to mention the companies that very well could add new jobs, but have held off because of an environment of uncertainty. Once negotiations have concluded, we can move forward with a balanced budget, and we can expect a positive economic impact on our region.

“Certainty” and “sustainability” - those are the words that come to mind when considering what it’s going to take for Illinois to succeed. At this point, I’m hoping that bi-partisan cooperation will lead to a healthy dose of both certainty and sustainability for all of us.

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.
From WGN TV:

CHICAGO — A Republican State Representative has introduced a bill that would require inmates with financial resources to pay for their own defense if they’re charged with committing a crime while behind bars. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner quickly said he supports the bill.

The legislation is in response to a WGN Investigates report that found Drew Peterson’s court-appointed legal team charged Illinois taxpayers $264,000 to defend the former Bolingbrook cop. Peterson was convicted of plotting from prison to hire a hit man to kill Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow. Glasgow was the prosecutor who put Peterson in prison for killing his third wife Kathleen Savio.

“Taxpayers are on the hook too easily for inmate legal bills,” Rauner said in a statement to WGN. “In a time when financial resources are tight across state government, there are better uses for the more than $200,000 the state is paying to defend Drew Peterson.”

Peterson’s defense cost the Illinois Department of Corrections more than it has spent to defend an inmate in 18 years.

A Randolph County judge told WGN Investigates he decided to forego a public defender and appoint private counsel for Peterson because of the complexity of the case. However the judge said it’s not his job to reign in the costs of private attorneys.

“If I were to tell the defense ‘you can’t spend any more,’ then in fact I think it could be said later the defendant wasn’t given a fair trial,” Judge Richard Brown said.

The new bill, sponsored by State Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Freeport, would require the Illinois Department of Corrections to pay for legal fees in similar cases only if it’s determined the inmate cannot afford a private attorney on his own.
***Guest Column*** 

As I am writing this I have just returned from Springfield after two days of session. Two days of session and not much to show for it, unfortunately. Many of you are asking about the so called “Grand bargain” being discussed in the Senate. As a member of the House, I am not a part of those talks, and quite frankly I learn from the same news reports most of you do.

I will say this about the talks: I am optimistic that members of the other chamber are meeting to discuss budgetary issues in a bi-partisan fashion. Even though some of the proposals that are being talked about are beyond that which I can support, the very notion that the two sides are willing to engage each other is encouraging.

For far too long we’ve heard that everyone in Springfield wanted a compromise but no one was willing to make the first move. The legislative chamber resembled something along the lines of a middle school dance where the guys awkwardly stood on one side of the room and the gals stayed on the other. I can think of no better description of the past year than to refer to it as the most ornate and time-consuming middle school dance in world history.

But here we are – finally talking about working together. There is some good news after all. Let’s hope that these negotiations are in good faith and that we can actually achieve the necessary reforms that will allow us to keep school doors open, fund our necessary social services, fulfill our pension promises, and provide a level of certainty that we can use to leverage Illinois as a place to grow businesses and create jobs. That’s the goal, and I hope that’s exactly what we will see.

Now I suppose I should recount what happened in Springfield over the past two days, and I should warn you to brace yourself for an underwhelming explanation. The three takeaways were: 1) we discussed and passed House Resolution 30 Zombie Preparedness Month – yes you read that correctly. No Budget, however we are concerned about Zombies. 2) Lawmakers discussed creating yet another state holiday in which state workers would get one more paid vacation day, and 3) My friends on the other side of the aisle spent almost a whole day complaining about President Trump from the floor of the Illinois House. Oh by the way, after we are done bashing the President maybe we could get around to asking him for a federal bailout. Kidding aside, I don’t believe the charades accomplished much of anything at all. We don’t have a budget, but apparently we have plenty of time to bash the President while on the taxpayer’s dime. That doesn’t sit well with me for some reason. Regardless of how you feel about the President, we, as state legislators, have a job to do. And our job description does not include pontificating on federal issues from the House floor.

Speaking of our legislative job descriptions, I would like to take a moment to share with you my committee appointments this year. I’m proud to say that I have been selected to be on the Agriculture and Conservation Committee – a committee that is very near and dear to the hearts of many of us in Northwest Illinois.

I was also appointed to the Appropriations – Public Safety Committee as well as the Executive, Labor and Commerce, Revenue and Finance, Veterans’ Affairs Committees as well as the Unemployment Insurance, Workers Compensation, Property Taxes, Sales Taxes and Finance Subcommittees.

Finally, I had the honor of being named Republican Spokesperson on the Judiciary – Criminal and the Restorative Justice Committees. Needless to say it will be a busy year legislatively. But most importantly, I plan to use these various committee appointments to be an advocate for Northwest Illinois. At the end of the day, which committees I’m appointed to is not nearly as important as my primary task – to represent you. As your voice in Springfield, I always want to know which issues are important to you. That’s why I have a district office, and that’s why that door is always open.

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.