DeKALB – It was a mixed-bag year for the Republican Party that one local representative said passed more business-friendly reforms in a single day than former Gov. Bruce Rauner did in four years.
Republican state Reps. Jeff Keicher of Sycamore and Tom Demmer of Dixon, and state Sen. Dave Syverson of Rockford rallied behind a balanced budget at the end of a spring session that they said involved some compromises from across the aisle.
Keicher is serving in his first term and said he entered a spring session where “cuts” was not a dirty word thanks to a Feb. 7 report from Deputy Gov. Dan Hynes that projected a $3.2 billion deficit.
After serving on the higher-education committee, Keicher said both houses worked together in the beginning to rein in spending.
“We went line-by-line-by-line of finding the waste,” Keicher said. “Everybody was happy that we had this agreement on where to trim the budget.”
That was before appropriation committees realized in April there would be $1.4 billion in additional funds because of dividend sales and income tax legislation passed the year before, among other reasons. The discovery killed the month-long bipartisan effort, Keicher said. The extra money was projected to balance the current fiscal year’s budget and set the course for a $200 million surplus for the next.
With the Democrats holding a super-majority in the General Assembly, there was not a lot Republicans could do when the Democrats restored the original budget plan shortly after the additional funds were discovered. Keicher said they had to choose their battles wisely.
“As we sat in caucus as House members, there were a lot of frustrations in that room,” Keicher said. “And unified, the 44 of us were ready to not participate at all whatsoever in [Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s] proposed budget. We received no concessions.”
Demmer and state Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, negotiated with Pritzker’s office May 31, the final day of budget discussions, and were able to secure business-friendly reforms such as credits for data center construction, manufacturer purchases and blue-collar job income taxes, and removing the corporate franchise tax for small businesses.
“We looked into reforms to make Illinois a more economically friendly state,” Demmer said.
Keicher and Demmer also acknowledged other positive reforms that came out of the spring session, such as legislation that will allow sports gambling and the sanctioning of new casinos in Rockford, Chicago and other places, and increased reimbursement rates for ambulance calls for those on Medicaid.
On the Senate side, Syverson experienced much of the same frustration in choosing which concessions were worth the trouble. A lot of the decisions, such as a vote to approve the minimum-wage increase that was signed into law Feb. 19, were made haphazardly, he said.
“There should have been more preparation dealing with the impact on what that will mean for small businesses,” Syverson said. “It was done so hastily that they really didn’t take into consideration the impact it would have not just on the state’s budget, but the impact it would have on local governments.”
Not all was doom and gloom for the three legislators coming out of the spring session, however, as they all agreed that the capital funding plan that doubled the state motor fuel tax to repair and develop infrastructure throughout Illinois was a win, despite taking flak from their constituents.
“Roads are horrible in the state of Illinois,” Keicher said. “We have long ignored the work that has allowed Illinois to be the crossroads of this country. We need to own it.”