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.