Rep. Breen Files Bills to Ban Red Light Cameras

red_light_camera.jpgThis year, Rep. Peter Breen renewed his efforts to eliminate unsafe, unwanted, and unnecessary red light cameras with the filing of two bills.

HB 4372 would prohibit the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) from approving any red light camera installation until the requesting municipality or county provides proof that a significant increase in public safety will result from the use of the automated traffic law enforcement system. "If red light cameras are about public safety, let’s see the data," said Breen. "There is no compelling evidence of improved safety from these cameras—just money out of your pocket."

Breen also filed HB 4373, a measure that would ban red light cameras in DuPage County. “I hear regularly from folks who feel red light cameras are nothing more than a hidden tax on drivers, meant to bring in revenue to local units of government,” said Breen. “The cameras tag unsuspecting motorists with traffic tickets that no police officer on the scene would ever give.”



Breen & McConchie File "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act"

Cooking_Oil_Russ1.jpgToday, State Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) and State Senator Dan McConchie (R-Hawthorn Woods) filed the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,” which would prohibit units of government in Illinois from using taxpayer funds for elective abortions, reversing key provisions of the recently enacted House Bill 40. Breen and McConchie are pressing for full debate and a floor vote on the measure during the upcoming fall veto session later this month, before HB 40 goes into effect in 2018.

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Breen Chosen to Serve on PANDAS Advisory Council

After championing legislation this year to provide insurance coverage for medically-advised treatments for Pediatric Acute-onset Neuropsychiatric Disorder and Syndrome Associated with Streptococcal Infections (PANDAS/PANS), State Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) has been appointed to serve on an advisory council that studies the disorder and advises the Illinois Department of Public Health on research, diagnosis, treatment and education relating to the disorder and syndrome.

The PANDAS Advisory Council was created in 2015 through Public Act 99-0320 in the 99th General Assembly, and Breen will serve as part of a combined group of lawmakers, medical professionals and family members with children with PANDAS/PANS to increase public awareness and education of the condition. “It’s an honor to be chosen to serve on this important advisory council, especially since we have families right here in the 48th District who are coping with PANDAS/PANS on a daily basis,” said Breen. “I look forward to our work and hope to shine a light of understanding on the impact and treatment of this condition.”

According to Breen, he initially learned about the disorder after meeting Kate Drury of Lombard, whose son, Charlie, developed PANDAS/PANS after a case of strep throat at the age of eight. “In Charlie’s case, after being treated for strep throat, his immune system essentially began to attack his brain, which led to obsessive-compulsive and other harmful behaviors. The family had to pay out-of-pocket for years due to the relative unknown nature of the condition. On the heels of our recent legislation requiring insurance coverage of PANDAS/PANS, my hope is that we can highlight this disease so that other families obtain a diagnosis and begin treatment much sooner.”

As part of their work, the council will issue a report to the General Assembly each year that includes recommendations concerning:

·       Practice guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of the disorder

·       Mechanisms to increase clinical awareness and education among physicians, school-based health centers and providers of mental health services

·       Outreach to educators and parents

·       Development of a network of volunteer experts to assist in education and outreach

“No child should have to suffer through the neurological effects of this syndrome, and I look forward to helping to improve public understanding and treatment options available for those diagnosed with PANDAS/PANS,” Breen said.

Breen Responds to Gov. Rauner's Broken Promise on Taxpayer-Funded Abortions

HB40_Press_conf.JPGI’ve had a front row seat to watch the performance and ability of Bruce Rauner over these past three years.

I’ve seen him rapidly hire and terminate numerous staff members, highly competent professionals who were proven successful in their prior roles. Inexplicably, they appeared incompetent while working for Rauner.

I personally observed him badly botch negotiations with the General Assembly on a variety of subjects, finally getting to the point where Governor Rauner couldn’t even be in the same room as House Speaker Mike Madigan. Madigan is the one guy who Rauner promised to stand up to, but he can’t or won’t even enter the arena for that fight.

I’ve heard Rauner promise the people of Illinois that he had “no social agenda” and as such firmly commit to legislators, the public, and even to Chicago’s Cardinal, Blaise Cupich, that he would veto taxpayer funding of abortions. But he has now broken that commitment, signing a bill that puts taxpayers on the hook to pay for an expected 20,000-30,000 aborted lives per year. And without any source of funding, in the throes of an unbalanced budget. Now, I’ve come to expect politicians to shade the truth, but what’s clear today is that Rauner’s promises were just flat out lies.

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Rep. Breen's bill to legalize 360 Beer Can Technology Signed into Law

NoonWhistle_360cantop_cropped.jpgAt the Illinois Bicentennial Craft Beer Competition held at this year’s State Fair, Governor Bruce Rauner announced that he signed into law Rep. Breen's legislation to allow craft brewing companies in Illinois to utilize new “360-lid” technology. During his remarks, he thanked the owners of Noon Whistle Brewing in Lombard for bringing forward the idea for the legislation. These 360-lids are the newest innovation in beer can technology, and permitting their use will provide Illinois brewers with a competitive edge in the marketplace. By essentially removing the entire lid of a beer can, an aluminum drinking vessel is created that allows consumers to better enjoy the aromas associated with IPAs and other hoppy beers. With the signing of HB 2386, Illinois becomes the 15th state to allow these new lids. HB 2386 is now listed in the statutes as Public Act 100-0051.  

"Pass Illinois Budget" Now

Capitol_5.28.17.jpgRecently, some of the schools in our area put messages on their marquees to “Pass Illinois Budget.” I’m not sure whether the message was aimed at the public, in hopes they will call their legislators, or aimed at legislators themselves driving by. Either way, I saw it and certainly agree.

In fact, everyone you ask will agree that Illinois needs a budget now. I’ve been telling everyone who will listen how we’re overspending by at least half a billion dollars a month, just from court orders and consent decrees—spending ordered by judges and agreed to by the Attorney General. This has to stop.

It’s like someone who lives paycheck-to-paycheck making $32,000 per year, running up $500 per month in excess credit card spending. That person may be able to get away with overspending for a few months, but after two years, they’re facing $12,000 in credit card debt, with no clear way to pay it off. If you add six zeros to the numbers, that represents your state government. (How the judges could order this overspending, and the Attorney General agree to it, is a subject for another day.)

Despite this, the parties in Springfield are deeply divided on the budget, with the key questions being 1) whether spending should be reduced, 2) whether taxes should be increased, and 3) whether reforms should be made to reduce the cost of government and improve the business climate.

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Unfunded Mandates Continue to Burden Homeowners

house-163526_1280.jpgProperty tax bills have landed in mailboxes. Every year, without fail, the taxes increase. Yes, sometimes, you’ll see a freeze in the levy of one unit of government or another, but the total always goes up.

When you compare the median property tax burden in Lombard versus median household income, property taxes come to between 8%-10% of the average household’s take home pay. And of course, the concept of “take home pay” only applies if you have a job: for folks who are retired or unemployed, there’s no comparison. The property tax burden is just massive. 

For nearly all of us who live in the suburbs of Chicago, property taxes are the highest state taxes we pay. And we’re not a small group: roughly 5.5 million of us live in the suburbs—over 40% of the entire population of Illinois.

In Springfield, few want to grapple with the heavy burden of property taxes. People prefer debating the state income tax rate: whether it should stay at the current 3.75% or move closer to 5%. But while they’re arguing over quarter-points in the income tax rate, to support ever-expanding state spending, folks are being taxed out of their homes.

Recently, I was talking with a legislator whose district borders Wisconsin. That district has suffered dearly from the suburban property tax crisis. In fact, that legislator’s own sister, child, and neighbors, all longtime Illinoisans, have just closed sales on homes in Wisconsin. While each person had a different list of reasons to leave, the number one reason on every list was property taxes. There are similar stories in our area and across Chicagoland.

But there is some measure of hope. The governor has demanded a property tax freeze as part of recent negotiations, and it appears that, if a real vote were allowed, a majority of legislators would support a freeze. We think the votes are there, because over the past couple years, Speaker Mike Madigan has scheduled almost 20 separate House votes on bills to freeze property taxes. While most of these votes were successful, not one of the bills was actually intended to be considered by the Senate, much less reach the governor’s desk. These were “show votes,” meant to provide political cover for vulnerable representatives, all while property taxes continue to rise unabated back in their districts.

While a freeze will save homeowners from increases in the short-term, the only way to get property taxes down in the long term is significant reform to the way we deliver services locally. For instance, there are over 150 unfunded mandates from Springfield that drive up costs in our local school districts—and every mandate requires additional administrators to oversee compliance, both in our local districts and inside the state government. In fact, some of these mandates only apply to our school districts and not to the Chicago Public Schools, but there’s still heavy resistance to giving our districts the same flexibility under state law.

There are just three weeks to go until the May 31 end of this year’s legislative session. I’ll keep working for three things: 1) a realistic balanced budget, 2) pro-business and pro-job reforms, and 3) tax relief. The alternative—more deficit spending, more families and businesses leaving, and ever higher taxes—is unthinkable.

A Steep Price to Pay

Starved_Rock.jpgI hear from a lot of folks who fear for the future of our state. They read the daily reports of woe about state government, and wonder if there will be a place in Illinois for them and their children and grandchildren.

Last week, the Pew Charitable Trusts reported that, when you take the entire pension debt of all 50 state governments, Illinois’ $130 billion debt is roughly 10% of the nation’s total. And that number doesn’t include the roughly $50 billion we owe for retiree health benefits, and the tens of billions more owed to local pension plans. Even using the most rosy future investment return estimates, every household in Illinois owes about $50,000 to the state government, just to make our pension funds solvent today. 

Since the 50 states directly compete with each other—and folks can move between them at will—there is a steep price to pay for falling behind your neighbor states. We saw that price paid with the report a few weeks ago that DuPage County lost over 9,000 residents last year, and our entire state lost over 35,000 residents. That makes three straight years we’ve lost more residents than any other state in the country. Many of those leaving cite Illinois’ highest-in-the-nation property taxes, which are roughly double the median among the 50 states, along with the various other problems with Illinois government.

Realistic appropriations bills haven’t been allowed to move forward in the General Assembly, and we’ve been without a budget for almost two years. Since I was sworn in as a representative in 2015, I still haven’t had the opportunity to vote on a balanced budget. I’ve written in this space about one key reason why: the state government continues to operate 90% of its programs (at 100% funding!), because the Attorney General agreed to let judges do the spending for us, by entering consent decrees and court orders against the state. These decrees and orders force us to spend billions more than we take in.

Against that backdrop, what can we do?

First off, we have to remember that Illinois has massive natural advantages. We have Chicago, a world class city. We have a well-educated, creative, and industrious workforce. We have great transportation hubs, rich farmland, and strong manufacturing capabilities. Together, these can be a strong foundation for future growth. However, if we abuse these advantages, we can lose them, and yield them to other states that are working harder to develop their own competing strengths.

Second, we have to make sure our neighbors and friends understand the gravity of our situation. We’re in a deep hole. I’ve been using some pretty strong language to describe the situation, in hopes of painting a picture for folks that can’t be ignored. But there are still a substantial number of legislators in Springfield who believe that the problems aren’t that bad—they literally refuse to believe the statistics that people are leaving. We have to make these legislators understand that folks will flee a state with excessively high taxes and bloated and corrupt government.

Third, we have to follow the advice of President Teddy Roosevelt, who urged, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” He wasn’t a person to wallow in self-pity and despair, and neither should we. Each of us is a free citizen in the greatest nation in the history of humankind.

We each have a voice and a mission, a unique role to play in this world. We each have the power to take action to confront the problems that face us. We can inspire others to do the same. We each have the ability to work to lift Illinois up, and stop our state’s continued drifting down. If we work on this project together, then we cannot help but improve from where we are, and eventually return Illinois to its rightful place as one of the best states in the Union to live, work, and raise a family.

Burn it Down vs. Turn it Around

matches-171732_1280.jpg“Our home, our Illinois, is on fire.” Those were my opening words this past week during House floor debate of Speaker Mike Madigan’s latest “stopgap” spending bill. The bill is timed to conclude fiscal year 2017 spending, which ends this upcoming June 30. Leading Democrats have recently said they won’t allow a full balanced budget to reach Governor Rauner’s desk, so we are stuck debating partial spending bills like this one.

You see, for the past year, social service providers have been providing care to the elderly, the poor, and those who are physically and sexually abused, on the understanding that the General Assembly would enact the proper appropriations to ensure they are reimbursed for that care. However, Madigan’s latest spending bill would end this fiscal year with cuts of almost 2/3 of funding to senior meal programs, initiatives to reduce infant deaths, and domestic violence shelters. None of the bill’s supporters could explain how these programs are supposed to survive on 30% or 35% funding.

Even more broadly, this stopgap bill provided no solutions, no reforms, and no balance. No Republicans were involved in the drafting of the measure. For all these reasons, I even went on to characterize the bill as a “Burn it Down” plan.

We had a pretty heated and wide-ranging debate on the measure, but my point was a simple one: today, Illinois is faced with two paths. One path, represented by bills like this “stopgap,” does nothing to keep folks from being driven out of our state, nothing to address our crushing spending and debt problems, and nothing to provide certainty that our most vulnerable citizens will get the services they need. 

The other path is a tougher one, requiring negotiation and compromise. That other path requires us to achieve three major objectives. First, we have to immediately pay off our back bills. We owe $12 billion in the short term—the equivalent of our state’s “credit card bill”—and we’re paying 12% interest on that short-term debt. When split out among a family of four in Illinois, that debt requires an immediate payment of about $4,000 per household to pay it off.

Second, we have to do everything possible to reach a full, realistic, and balanced budget. We can’t fund every pet project at the 100% level. But we can identify our most important and necessary programs and fund those programs as much as our tax revenue will allow.

Third, we have to enact sustainable reforms to government worker pensions and benefits. Our debt for pension obligations is estimated at $130 billion, retiree health care is estimated at $50 billion, and other bonds outstanding is estimated at $31 billion. That’s a total of roughly $211 billion, which “we the people” owe in long-term debt. This adds up to about $65,000 that each family of four owes the state government, all so that the state can meet its current long-term obligations. When folks fret about the future of Illinois, this debt is the biggest reason why. We have to get those numbers down, immediately, and stop them from growing in the future.

Folks will often ask me, “how do you put up with Springfield?”

My way of refocusing each day at the Capitol is to recall specific individuals from our district and across the state. Each person in Illinois deserves better—you deserve better—than this mess of a state government. The stakes are too high to back down. We have to turn Illinois around, and quickly.

Emerging from the Dark Ages

middle-ages-735063_1280.jpgSometimes in Springfield, the truth beats any fiction you could invent. One of my bills this term seeks to fix a quirk in Illinois law that negatively impacts nonprofits and small businesses. Every nonprofit and business in Illinois must file an “annual report” with the Secretary of State. That report provides basics about the board members of the operation and includes the annual fee—it’s required to remain in good standing as a corporation.

I discovered in filing one of those reports this year that there is an electronic filing option. That was great news: instead of hand-writing the required information on a sheet of paper, cutting a check, and sending the papers in the mail, you could e-file with a credit card.

Here’s the problem: the Secretary of State’s office charges you an extra fee of $25, $50, or more for e-filing.

Because our fee statute hasn’t been rewritten in a while, the law had lumped e-filing in with “expedited services,” which allows to folks who need same-day treatment of their filing to pay an extra fee for that service. But most folks don’t need “expedited service,” especially when filing something like their annual report with the Secretary of State’s office.

My bill simply says that an e-filing will be treated like any other filing—it’s not an expedited service solely because of being conveyed electronically.

Seems easy enough, right? If anything, e-filing should cost the Secretary of State’s office less than processing all those paper forms and checks. And you eliminate issues like forgetting to include your check or the form getting lost in the mail. Not to mention avoiding the problem of someone mistyping your handwritten information into the Secretary of State’s database.

Well, in Springfield, nothing is that easy.

I got word that the Secretary of State’s office opposed my bill. The reason: money.

The staff at the Secretary of State’s office said they didn’t want to lose the extra money they are making off these fees. I’ve tried to make the case that most folks running nonprofits and small businesses are like me: when I saw the $50 fee I’d have to pay for e-filing, I went back and grabbed my pen, checkbook, and a stamp. There’s no way I was going to pay $50 extra for the privilege of e-filing.

The reality of Springfield is also that, because the Secretary of State is a popular Democrat, it’s nearly impossible to move a bill if his office is opposed. Before the committee hearing on the bill, I was having real trouble getting folks to sign on to the measure. (To her credit, Rep. Carol Sente, a Democrat from Vernon Hills, agreed to sign on as my chief cosponsor.)

Then came the committee hearing at the end of last week. I testified, and then the staff person from the Secretary of State’s office testified. All of the sudden, with both sides’ arguments laid bare, you could see the looks on the faces of the committee members change. They were not happy. Then came the questions:

“We charge people more to e-file, even though it costs us less to process?”

“Why don’t you guys get into the 21st Century?”

“If anything, shouldn’t we charge people more to file by mail, not less?”

It didn’t go well for the Secretary of State. The bill advanced on a bipartisan vote of 6-1. 

While the prospects now look good for this bill, there are plenty of other similar measures that die quietly. This is a mentality we run into every day at the Capitol. The question isn’t whether a particular fee or tax makes any sense, or whether it best serves taxpayers, nonprofits, and small businesses.

Instead, the fees and taxes are imposed because those inside the government see the fees and taxes as their money. They forget that “We the People” send that money—the product of our labor and industry—to fund a proper state government.

When you’re looking where to lay the blame for the dysfunction in Springfield, you can start with the roadblocks I ran into here. There’s way too much deference to politically powerful people and offices, and bureaucrats forget that government exists to serve taxpayers and not the other way around.

The one way I know to fight these mindsets is to shine a bright spotlight on them whenever they rear their ugly heads. As it’s said, “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”