Spring Session Recap

The spring legislative session extended beyond the May 31 deadline and into the weekend.  I would like to take this opportunity to give you a recap of the action on major issues taken up through June 1.

But first, I would like to say something about joy. Yes, “joy”. You might think that is a curious word to use when talking about all the contentious issues being debated in Springfield and how they affect us back here at home. Let me explain briefly. I find joy in the privilege that you have given me to represent our community. I take joy in how you participate in our democracy every time you call, e-mail, or visit my office to ask a question, voice your opinion, or share a concern that impacts your family or business. 

Speaking of family, I took joy this week when my daughter, Emma, and the daughter of my seatmate, Representative Keith Wheeler, joined us at work in Springfield on Thursday. Anyone who’s a parent can understand the pride of taking your son or daughter to work with you. For those who’d like to watch a brief clip, I’d like to share the video. It’s just over one minute in length. You can view by clicking HERE.

Lastly, despite the recent setbacks we experienced in Springfield– on taxes, the rights of the unborn, on the failure to achieve real and lasting property tax relief; we still have so much to be thankful for – and so much still worth fighting for. As you read the updates on major issues below, I hope that instead of feeling discouraged, you’ll pause to think about the things that bring you joy. Think about what you love about your neighborhood, your community, the memories you’ve made with your children or family. This is our home, and we’re not going to stop fighting for the values we believe in just because we took a few licks down in Springfield.

You can scroll below for a recap of the following topics:

  • House approves new state budget
  • Graduated Tax amendment approved, set to appear on November 2020 ballot
  • Capital Bill to Invest in Illinois’ Infrastructure
  • Recreational Cannabis to become law
  • Why there’s a push to change how Illinois funds road projects
  • Women’s Self-Defense & Self-Awareness Class in DeKalb a success
  • The Minnesota Miracle – and the lessons Illinois can learn from it
  • Measure to exempt college athletics employees from severance pay caps heads to governor
  • Leading the way on jobs, redevelopment

Please do not hesitate to contact my district office in Sycamore if I or a member of our staff may be of assistance to you. You can reach us by phone at (815) 748-3494 or via e-mail at Keicher@ilhousegop.org.


Jeff Keicher

State Representative, 70th District

House approves new state budget

On May 31, the House of Representatives approved a state budget for the new fiscal year that begins on July 1. The budget was approved on a bipartisan basis on a vote of 83-35.

The new state budget is balanced and includes $375 million to support the K-12 education funding formula, $500 million to MAP grants, a 5% increase for higher education including NIU, funding for nursing homes, mental health, autism therapy and other priorities that preserve and strengthen the safety net for our most vulnerable. We are also making the full pension payment and paying down the backlog of unpaid state bills. Even more, this budget has the potential to result in a $200 million surplus.

We saw the devastating impact of a budget impasse for two years and heard the voice of Illinois families loud and clear that we MUST get spending in line. With this new state budget, we are finally setting Illinois back on the path toward fiscal stability and growth.  It is important to know that the budget is BALANCED and does NOT require additional income taxes on Illinois households.  However, there are adjustments to a commercial foreign tax credit.

The FY 2020 budget goes into effect on July 1. It was approved by the House of Representatives and because it was in balance, because it appropriated monies to mental health, social services and our disadvantaged citizens, because it supports the NIU community, our community colleges and our local school districts, and because it addressed some of the additional revenue needed to shore up the pensions, I voted in favor of the budget.  I spent hours scouring the 1581 pages before the vote and consulted with our staff.  I feel this is a good measure, though I was hopeful for reductions in a few programs that didn’t come to pass.

Graduated Tax amendment approved, set to appear on November 2020 ballot

On May 27, the House of Representatives approved legislation placing a constitutional amendment referendum to enact a graduated tax on the November 2020 General Election ballot. If approved, the graduated tax would replace Illinois’ current flat tax system, where everyone pays the same rate.

Make no mistake – Governor Pritzker’s candid admission that he cannot give any guarantees that there won’t be changes to the rates means potentially higher taxes on middle-income earners in the not-too-distant future should the graduated tax become law. When Illinois legislators raised our taxes in 2011 and 2017, they made promises they did not keep about why those income tax hikes were needed and how they were going to be spent.  I voted NO to stand with taxpayers against giving Illinois legislators a blank check to raise our taxes, ESPECIALLY since we are able to have a surplus in FY 19 & FY 20 under the current system of taxation.

Then a few days later on May 30, the House of Representatives approved a bill to set the rates under a graduated tax should the referendum be approved by the voters in 2020.  These rates are set by politicians and subject to change at any time. This means taxes on lower and middle-income families can change any time if the graduated tax is approved.  I’m sure you may have the same concerns with this additional power of taxation that I do.  Of course, we can also hope the promises made on how we spend income tax revenue are finally kept…

Capital Bill to Invest in Illinois’ Infrastructure

The Illinois General Assembly voted on June 1 to approve a set of capital bills to repair and upgrade Illinois’ vast network of roads and bridges, including many communities across our district. These are the first such capital bills in a decade, and it included both transportation or horizontal capital (SB 1939) and construction or vertical capital (SB 690).  In the decade since the last set of capital bills Illinois’ transportation infrastructure has fallen into disrepair. I heard from many of you about the poor condition of our roads, the potholes and overall condition.  The capital bills also included much-needed funding for long overdue deferred facility maintenance at Northern Illinois University.

Investing in our infrastructure is essential both to the economy and for public safety. Illinois must maintain a safe, reliable and efficient network of roads and bridges. Doing so, however, comes at a cost. An increase in the state’s gas tax and vehicle registration fees are understandably unpopular. However, there’s more to the story that what you’ve heard and I ask that you think about the condition of our roads today. First, a large number of other taxes and fees were originally part of the capital bill, items that House Republicans were able to remove through hard-fought negotiations. We were able to get the following additional taxes/fees REMOVED from the capital bill:

Real Estate Transfer Tax – $34 million

Bottled Water Tax -$19.9 million

Streaming Tax (Netflix, Hulu, etc.) – $110 million

Rental Car Tax – $8 million

Car Sharing Tax – $3 million

Ride Share Tax – $200 million

Beer, Liquor, Wine Tax – $120 million

Cable/Satellite Tax – $110 million

Getting these taxes and fees taken out of the final capital bill was a big win for Illinois taxpayers, one I was proud to support.  We were also able to keep the increase lower than the proposed $0.40 and $0.44 initially discussed.

Second, the current motor fuel tax rate was set at $0.19 in 1990, nearly 30 years ago.  There’s PROTECTION in how the money is going to be spent.  In 2016 voters passed an amendment to the Illinois Constitution called the Transportation LOCKBOX, I’m sure many of you voted for it in order to protect our roads and bridges.  What this means is that ALL FUNDS from motor fuel taxes go into a Transportation LOCKBOX and can ONLY be spent on roads, bridges and transportation projects.  These funds CANNOT be used to fund any other program, CANNOT be swept and will now be tied to CPI (Consumer Price Index) going forward.  As a matter of fact, had the Illinois Legislature included this CPI in 1990 we wouldn’t have needed to consider an increase this year as the new rate of $0.38 would have been the approximate inflation adjusted number. 

I am excited about the investments that will be made in transportation projects here in DeKalb, Kane and Boone Counties that will create jobs and make our roadways safer and help our area become more competitive for job creators. This was not an easy vote to cast but as I considered the proposals I talked with folks back home, considered the significant concessions we gained from the Governor, considered the pro-growth economic reforms, understood the lockbox security of those funds, and looked at the deferred attention in these areas. I recognized my vote for the capital bills will help to ensure that families get safely to and from work, school, worship and recreational activities on Illinois’ roadways for years to come.  It was a vote that passed these bills on a bipartisan basis and it is an investment in what we are able to become as a State.

Recreational Cannabis to become law

The House of Representatives voted on May 31 to legalize recreational cannabis for adults age 21 and over. After thoughtful consideration of arguments on both sides of this complex issue, I decided to vote No for a variety of reasons. You deserve to know why.

First, from a personal standpoint. I witnessed the detrimental impact dependence on it had on our family and health. I know I am not alone. Many families have been devastated by various forms of substance abuse in the home, including cannabis. Several residents in our community shared their personal story with me in recent weeks of how cannabis has affected their family, which I found to be both heartfelt and persuasive.

Secondly, from a law enforcement standpoint. Both the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association and the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police took part in negotiations on the bill, but said their concerns were largely ignored. They cited studies in states with legalized recreational cannabis showing significant increases in the number of traffic accidents in which drivers were under the influence of cannabis. Police have said that the legalization bill does not provide sufficient safeguards to discourage impaired driving.  As a matter of fact, in addition to many others that spoke on the issue, Speaker Madigan is quoted as saying he shares these concerns and didn’t cast a vote on the measure. 

Thirdly, from a process standpoint. The effort to pass the legalization bill was rushed through. The mindset of the sponsors appeared to be “let’s pass this right now and work out the problems and unintended consequences later”. Good public policy and effective laws are not made that way. I am one of 61 House members (a majority of the body), who signed on as co-sponsor of a resolution saying that we should take the time needed for lawmakers, stakeholders, public health experts and others have the chance to consider the societal impact of legalization and examine all the data from other states that have passed similar legislation. This resolution was introduced by Democrat Representative Marty Moylan and had bipartisan support from across the state. It is HR 157.

With all this said, I found compelling the argument made by those who assert that cannabis has been over-criminalized. Statistics show that roughly 800,000 people in Illinois have been convicted of a cannabis-related offense, crowding our prisons and clogging our courts. Many of these convictions are for minor possession offenses of a small amount of cannabis. One positive aspect of the legalization bill is that it affords justice to these individuals who are convicted with minor infractions.

Despite my opposition to the bill that we ended up with, I am in strong support of expanding Illinois’ medical cannabis law and making it permanent.  I am co-sponsor of the bill to do just that, House Bill 895. This bill would expand the list of qualifying conditions to include osteoarthritis, Chron’s disease, colitis, autism and chronic pain, among other conditions. For a good recap of this issue and the bill I’m co-sponsoring, please read the Chicago Tribune article by clicking HERE.

I would like to thank everyone in the 70th District who took the time to give me their input in on the legalization of recreational cannabis over the past several days and weeks. People on both sides of the issue made valid points and helped to inform my understanding of this issue beyond my own experiences. Ultimately, my vote was determined by the variety of factors I outlined above. Now that the General Assembly has voted to legalize, I pledge my support for doing everything within our ability to make sure the law is implemented in a way that minimizes any negative impact on our youth and supports the efforts of our law enforcement agencies to combat impaired driving on our roadways.  The sponsors have said there’s much additional work to be done as well, they recognize there’s issues unresolved by this language.

Why there’s a push to change how Illinois funds road projects

Politics should not be the decisive factor in how Illinois chooses which road projects to fund. Public safety and the quality of our infrastructure should drive these decisions. This article offers an excellent perspective. Click HERE to give it a read from NPR Illinois.

Women’s Self-Defense & Self-Awareness Class in DeKalb a success

On Monday evening, June 10, instructors from One Light Self-Defense conducted a self-defense and self-awareness class for local women and girls age 10+ at the Haish Gymnasium in DeKalb. This was the first of what I hope will be a series of classes I plan to sponsor in our district moving forward. Thank you to everyone who came out and participated in the class.

Guest View: The Minnesota Miracle – and the lessons Illinois can learn from it

I wanted to share a guest editorial penned by my friend and colleague State Rep. Mark Batinick on the “Minnesota miracle” that’s been referred to…a more holistic viewpoint. I’ve often had folks post that Minnesota has it “right” in their approach to taxation.  The fact that is often left off that comment is they have an entirely different framework on costly issues that Illinois needs to overcome.  There’s not a fair comparison across the cost drivers between the two states.  I thought you’d enjoy some of that insight.  There is a hope for Illinois’ future if we follow a different path. Minnesota is evidence of that. Worth a read. Please click HERE.

Measure to exempt college athletics employees from severance pay caps heads to governor

I’ve spoken often about this issue recently, including in debate on the House Floor and you can watch the video of my comments on my website. Should terminated coaches at Illinois’ public universities be allowed to receive more than 20 weeks of severance pay? Current state law limits severance to 20 weeks, but legislation we passed last week will let them receive more. (SB 529)  

In all but 11 states, coaches are the highest-paid state employees, so we’re talking about severance that in some cases amounts to millions of dollars. I voted NO to protect taxpayers, women’s coaches, and student athletes.  A public university shouldn’t be on the hook to pay outrageous severance packages for coaches that are fired for the lack of a team’s performance. Accountability in the Athletic Director and Coaches is a good place to start.  My thinking was, let’s start a realistic approach, we failed on that measure.  Click HERE to read a good recap of this issue.

Leading the way on jobs, redevelopment

When I became State Representative last July, 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 alum, 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 & 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 passed by the legislature because they did not represent the values of our district.

I opposed the graduated 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 like 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 Rep. Keith Wheeler 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.