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.