Pierce Brown wrote, “Home isn't where you're from, it's where you find light when all grows dark.” For 115,000 Illinoisans in the past year, the light is no longer in the Land of Lincoln. 115,000 Illinois residents left our state according to the US Census Bureau between July 2016 and July 2017. Furthermore, Illinois has lost over 642,000 residents since 2010.

This is especially true of Illinois rural counties.  The Illinois News Network reports that rural Illinois has been losing more population in recent years, while suburban Chicago has grown. Crain’s Chicago Business indicates that Chicagoland has done more than increase population, it has created jobs, saying, “Federal data shows that just 20 counties nationwide accounted for half of new businesses created in the US between 2010 and 2014… Cook was the only county in the Midwest to land on that top 20 list.”

Even considering the growth in Chicago’s economy, the Illinois economy continues to struggle. Our first budget in two years is currently running a 1.7 billion dollar deficit, even after passing permanent corporate and individual income tax increases.  Internal Revenue Service data tells us that Illinois has lost $3.4 billion in “adjusted gross income” (AGI) to neighboring states between 2010 and 2015.

The legacy of the status quo is declining rural population, lagging employment, punitive tax increases, and wasteful state spending.  Contrary to what others have written, I am not against increasing state revenues.  I am against increasing your tax burden.  The average family of four pays more in taxes in Illinois than in any other state in the country.  We are taxed enough already.  So let’s put the myth that higher taxes will save our state’s economy to rest.  
Here is what I do stand for.  I believe we should pursue the right course to expand our tax base.  That is how we increase revenue.  To do that, we need to make Illinois a destination state, for families and businesses.

Before the recent tax hike, it was small businesses driving job growth in Illinois.  Businesses with fewer than 50 employees created 75 percent of the net new jobs in 2016, and from 2011 to 2016, businesses with fewer than 500 jobs created 79 percent of net new jobs, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.  We need to cut the red tape and drain the swamp of regulations that suffocate small businesses.  It is time to make it just a little bit easier for entrepreneurs to move our economy forward and create jobs.

The laundry list of incentives for businesses to start or expand in Chicagoland is long, and let’s face it, probably a little soiled.  If we are going to grow ALL of Illinois, we need better incentives to expand the rural tax base and grow our economy.  We need to expand Enterprise Zones in rural communities.  We need to increase incentives for regional planning and economic development in rural communities.

A good start would be passing the Lincoln-Douglas Historical Tax credit (HB3096) which I filed last year.  This legislation would extend the River’s Edge Tax credit to all seven of the Lincoln-Douglas debate sites in order to help spur development in those communities.

Another excellent step to improving our competitiveness and increasing our tax base seems simple.  We need to make sure any business interested in incentives to expand or start-up is not required to obtain a competing incentive package from a neighboring state – my bill (HB3105). It is counterproductive to offer an incentive and then require the business to apply for an incentive package from a neighboring state.

I believe in Illinois.  I believe in our work force.  I believe in our students.  I believe in our families.  I believe in our small business community.  I believe we have what it takes to climb from the bottom of state rankings to the top.

We do not need more new taxes to do it.  We do not need more regulations to do it.  We need to expand our tax base and grow our economy.  We need better incentives for rural communities like the ones I have outlined.  It was “Bunker” Roy who said, “Strengthen the rural areas and you will find less people migrating to urban areas.”

We also need to reform our education system.  We need to cut the red tape that bleeds our businesses dry.  And we need to focus on incentivizing small businesses because they are the people who create most of the jobs anyway.  That is the recipe for success.  That is how we start attracting families and businesses to grow in Illinois.  I look forward to the 2018 General Assembly session which begins next week.

If you have any additional thoughts or ideas for making Illinois better, you can reach me or Sally at 815-232-0774, or visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com and use the form to send me an e-mail.
Thank you! Last month, I sent out my legislative update and included a survey covering important issues we all face in Illinois. Hundreds of you returned the survey either by mail or online and they are still coming in! Many of you sent personal comments, letters, and cards as well. I am reviewing them all, and am both humbled and grateful to read your thoughts.

I also understand there were some challenges with the online survey. I am working with our House web development staff to work on improvements for the future. It was George Washington who said, “In a free and republican government, you cannot restrain the voice of the multitude.” The government is us; we are the government, you and I. For a government to be successful we need to elect good people, who know when to stick to their guns and how to accomplish the will of the people.

That is why surveys like the one many of you completed are so important. Our state leaders need to avoid the Springfield echo chamber and gain perspective by reaching out and listening to voters. Leadership is better when it is informed. I want to know the issues important to you so I can better represent your needs in Springfield.

Public service does not come without criticism. It is part of the job description. To some, the survey could have been more specific or allowed greater detail. It is important to note this survey was an opportunity to obtain a general idea of the issues that are important to you, and to open future discussions about them.

One of the most significant issues in both parts of the survey was taxes. It was a Republican Supreme Court Justice from Massachusetts, Oliver Wendell Holmes, who said, “I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization.” What I often wonder is whether the taxes we currently pay are buying us a more civilized society?

I am absolutely certain that we pay enough in taxes. Not only is the state and local tax burden worse for the average family in Illinois than in California or Massachusetts, it is worse than every other state in the country. Over 70% of survey respondents agree their state income taxes are too high and that the recent tax hike should be repealed.

Even more people believe taxes should be reformed to reduce the property tax burden. Property tax reform was the number one survey issue, registering 87% support. We need to reform our tax system to encourage property ownership. We need tax reform to protect senior citizens and prevent them from being taxed out of their homes.

Many responses also articulated the understanding that the state needs revenue to pay for essential services, to reduce our debt, and to balance the budget. I agree. The problem with Springfield is that Speaker Madigan’s control accomplishes none of those things, even after raising our taxes.

Welfare reform ranked second in terms of support. 84% of survey responses supported reforming our welfare system. Those that were opposed were overwhelmingly opposed to drug testing for welfare recipients, either on constitutional or financial grounds (arguing that the costs outweighed the savings). What we can agree on is that there are far too many people relying on welfare and we need a growing economy to create jobs that will help people lift themselves and their children from government dependence to independence.

That is why creating new jobs and retaining the ones we have and adding resources like targeted TIF districts and enterprise zones are so important. Tax credits like the Rivers Edge tax credits and my proposed Lincoln Douglas debate site tax credits will help attract new businesses that will create jobs throughout Northern Illinois.

It is a New Year, and we will have ample opportunity to discuss the issues in greater depth. I am looking forward to the work ahead moving Illinois in the right direction. Thank you again for taking the time to complete the survey. If you have not yet completed it, please visit my website http://www.repbrianstewart.com/. You can reach the survey by clicking the 3rd icon down on the right-hand side titled, “2017 Session Wrap-Up Survey.”

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