Over a year ago, I began my first campaign for public office with a straightforward platform. My goals included protecting taxpayers, creating jobs and economic development, establishing a world-class education and workforce development system, restoring fiscal stability and balancing the budget, and rebuilding Illinois’ infrastructure.
I am pleased that after my first legislative session, we have started down a path to make these goals a reality.
I am most proud of my 44 Republican peers in the Illinois House. Through our negotiating efforts, Illinois passed its first balanced budget in years on a bipartisan basis. The budget will pay down $1.2 billion in old bills while making our full pension payment, increasing funding for education, mental health programs, nursing homes and investing more in need-based MAP grants for college students.
We enacted the Blue-Collar Jobs Act, a major jobs program. We passed one of the broadest capital infrastructure programs Illinois has ever seen to rebuild our worn and pitted roads, failing bridges and state facilities that have been long ignored. You will soon start to see major investments in roads throughout the 70th District.
As an alumnus, I was proud to champion initiatives and projects for Northern Illinois University that we brought to fruition, including an increase in operations funding, a health IT building and millions for deferred maintenance. I also took a stand to defend students against felons on campus and tried to stop exorbitant coaches severance agreements.
The General Assembly cut taxes on 287,000 small businesses through a phasing-out of the franchise tax. We pushed to reinstate the manufacturers’ purchase credit, which will allow Illinois manufacturers to invest and expand while retooling and updating. We extended the research and development tax credit for our innovative manufacturing sector. Important locally, the legislature created an incentive for data centers that I hope will spark a new project in DeKalb County.
Lawmakers of both parties introduced more than 6,000 bills during the five-month session. Although we achieved several victories, I opposed many bills that passed because they did not represent the values of our district.
I opposed the graduated income tax amendment because it will significantly raise tax rates on most residents over time. This plan had no meaningful property tax relief and was also opposed by groups such as the Farm Bureau and Chamber of Commerce. Constituents told me clearly that they do not trust politicians with more of their hard-earned money.
Likewise, I voted against an increase in the minimum wage. While every employee deserves to earn a living, this proposal did not adjust for geography. Chicago and DeKalb do not have the same cost of living and shouldn’t have the same minimum wage. Small businesses, nonprofit agencies and local governments in my district overwhelmingly opposed this government mandate, and I listened.
I worked on legislation expanding Illinois protections for victims of sexual violence. This is a very personal issue for those who have dealt with abusive relationships. We need to be certain that those who need protection are safe.
On guns, a proactive bill sponsored by state Rep. Keith Wheeler, R-50th District, that would have addressed the issues revealed in the Aurora shooting tragedy was favored by some, but a more aggressive, arguably unconstitutional bill (SB1966) passed the House. It didn’t move in the Senate, and neither measure will move forward this year.
Working with the Farm Bureau, the Illinois Corn Growers Association, and other agriculture groups, we stopped legislation that would have added significant labor and regulatory costs for ethanol plants and livestock facilities. I proudly joined every member of the House Republican Caucus in the final days of session to stand with our farm community and stop these anti-agriculture measures.
One of the biggest debates was on the expansion of marijuana availability in Illinois. I proudly co-sponsored expansion of the Illinois Medical Cannabis program, so that those with aliments that would benefit from use may get the help they need.
However, I could not support outright legalization. There were not enough protections for our most vulnerable built into the legislation as proposed. The sponsors have indicated they recognize this and will be back with modifications soon.
Governing is not a game of absolutes. Votes are not easy, and I do my best to represent the interests of communities and residents in the 70th District just as all 118 Representatives do.
I am committed to providing transparency in the decisions I make, and remain grateful at the opportunity to serve as your state representative.
• State Rep. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, can be reached at 815-748-3494, or through his website, repkeicher.com.