New General Assembly sworn in; Opportunity for progress in 2017

100th General Assembly takes office The new 100th General Assembly was sworn in on Wednesday, January 11, at Sangamon Auditorium in Springfield, opening up the new legislative session. As expected, Democrat Michael Madigan of Chicago was re-elected to the office of Speaker of the House. I was proud to cast my vote for our House Republican leader Jim Durkin.

With the swearing-in of the new House and Senate, all legislation begins anew at the start of the process. Members are being appointed to committees and the new House and Senate are getting themselves organized for the two-year session ahead. The House will be back in session on January 24 to begin its work for the year.

Where we’ve been, where we need to go
As the 100th General Assembly begins its work, the state is at a crucial crossroad. Illinois has fewer jobs now than it did in 2000, and far more people have moved out of the state than have moved in since then. Our unemployment rate is among the highest in the nation and has been higher than the national average for a long time. We have billions of dollars in unpaid bills and an unfunded pension liability of more than $100 billion.

We have a chance in this new General Assembly to tackle the state’s problems and get to work on real solutions, instead of going through the bitter partisan back and forth of the last General Assembly. We can create more jobs through common-sense changes to Illinois’ workers compensation system. Legislators have the chance to improve Illinois’ job creation environment by lowering property taxes throughout the state. The state needs to improve education by putting a fairer funding system in place. We can bring more accountability back to our system of governing through implementing term limits on legislators.

We can do all these things and more if we have the willingness to work together for the best interests of the state. I am looking forward to getting to work this month to move Illinois out of the crisis it is in and toward once again becoming a state that people and job creators want to move into.

Some activity in final days of lame duck session
The lame-duck 99th General Assembly met for two days at the beginning of the week to wrap up business on a few items. Senate Bill 2872, legislation to reform Illinois’ criminal justice system passed the House on Monday. The bill includes services for crime victims and provisions to reduce prison overcrowding.

The bipartisan legislation passed by a wide margin in the House. It was heralded as an example of what kind of progress can be made when members from both parties are included in discussions on a bill. This is the kind of bipartisan teamwork we need more of if we are to solve the problems Illinois is facing.

The House also passed a bill to extend the EDGE tax credit until April 30. EDGE was set to expire December 31 amidst ongoing negotiations on improvements to the system. The four-month extension preserves the tax credit while efforts continue to reform it. Legislation also passed which requires school buildings constructed before 2000 to have their water pipes tested for lead. This comes in response to the lead-tainted water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

IDOT issues report on 2016 projects
The Illinois Department of Transportation’s (IDOT) end of the year report reviews the projects it undertook last year in Chicago as well as throughout the state. Two of IDOT’s biggest Chicago projects involved work on two major interchanges, the Jane Byrne Interchange downtown, between the Dan Ryan and Eisenhower Expressways, and the McCormick Place Interchange just south of downtown that connects the Stevenson Expressway with Lake Shore Drive.

Closer to our area, other interchanges were rebuilt. Highlights include the I-74/I-155 interchange just east of Peoria, and I-57/I-70 in Effingham. Work also continued on the high-speed rail line between Chicago and St. Louis, with new safety fencing installed along the route throughout the year. Locally, 2016 saw a new train station in Dwight which replaced a more-than-100-year-old historic depot.

Projects still to come include the construction of new planned pay lanes to alleviate congestion on I-55 southwest of Chicago.  The additional lanes, meant for vehicles with transponders, are intended to speed traffic flow in one of the state’s largest job-creation regions. When the new lanes are built, they will be managed with time-sensitive tolls charged on the vehicles that drive on them and would rise and fall depending on traffic conditions.

Did You Know?
Though Illinois became a state in 1818, it was not until the 20th Century that Illinois had a governor who was born in the state. Governor Richard Yates, who served from 1901 to 1905 was the first governor to be born in Illinois – Jacksonville to be specific. Yates’ 21 predecessors were born in such diverse places as New York, Tennessee, Ohio, Virginia and even Germany. Since then many, but not all, Illinois governors were born in the state. The last governor born out-of-state was George Ryan, who was born in Iowa.