From the Desk of Senator Brian W. Stewart (Feb. 1): “Remembering the Challenger and Illinois Government Living within its Means”

Last week was the 33rd anniversary of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion. On the day when we expected to see the first teacher launched into space, instead many of us were watching a tragedy. Do you remember what you were doing that day? Do you remember how you felt when you heard the news?

President Reagan delivered a fitting tribute, arguably one of the best he had ever delivered. I’m still moved by his final words, “We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.’”

Tragedies like the Challenger explosion and 9/11 cause us to feel so much. Our hearts sink with sorrow and we weep for the lost and their families. We’re overcome with anger at those responsible, from the NASA bureaucrats who refused to replace the Challenger’s O-rings when they learned almost 10 years before about the defect that could cause an explosion, to the terrorists attacking America and Americans on our own soil. And we’re driven to fervent patriotism.

Moments like these remind us how far we’ve come and how much further we have to go. It’s hard to equate events like the Challenger explosion with policies or economics. I’m not saying that our circumstances here in Illinois rise to the level of a Challenger or a 9/11. I am saying that our state’s condition is definitely a disaster. I’m heartbroken that so many have been forced to pull up stakes and seek refuge elsewhere. I’m outraged that our leaders refuse to do what’s needed to turn Illinois around. And I’m deeply committed to serving as your Senator because I love Illinois and I want our State to be a safe haven for working families.

I agree with former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, when he said, “Like working families all across the state, we must find a way to make government live within its means.” It’s hard to square how the governor who uttered those words is in the same party as Gov. Pritzker, who seems committed to expanding our current deficit instead of balancing the budget.

Gov. Pritzker’s first major announcement on his first full day in office was to re-instate “step pay increases” for 20,000 state employees. First, what is a step increase? A step increase is an increase that pays an employee more based on how long they’ve been working. Sometimes they are also tied to performance, though not always.

In the case of state workers, step increases are not cost-of-living raises. They already get those. They’re not performance increases, meaning an employee’s performance cannot influence the step increase in any way.

How often are they scheduled? Every five years? Every three? No. State workers most recent contract scheduled step increases every year for their first eight to 10 years, putting pressure on a state budget already bursting to deficit, and adding more weight to our future pension obligations. The last administration froze the increases and took the labor organizations to court to try and save millions of Illinois working families from facing more taxes to pay for 20,000 state workers.

The State-Journal Register reports that the increases are scheduled to start on April 1 this year. Pritzker’s reinstatement of the step increase will cost taxpayers up to $200 million depending on when it’s implemented, according to According to the Illinois Policy Institute, our current state budget is running a $2 billion deficit. And as of today we owe our vendors $7.2 billion and our pension system $134 billion.

I think most of us understand fair pay for good work. What doesn’t make sense is committing to spend more money EVERY year, while we are already running a deficit. What’s even more outrageous is we don’t know how we’re going to pay for it. When the first order of business is to spend more money without understanding why or knowing where it will come from, working families have every reason to hide their wallets.

Another outrage is Senate Bill 107. This bill was filed by State Senator Julie Morrison, and seeks to make it illegal for any person in Illinois to be in possession of an “assault weapon 300 days after the law is passed.” If the bill passes, people who do own “assault weapons” may keep them if they register the weapons with the Illinois State Police.

We can see why Sen. Morrison uses the words “assault weapon” in her ban. Who wouldn’t support the idea of banning “assault weapons”? Using negative words like this tell us that “assault weapons” are dangerous and they have to go! Which of course is not true. It’s no surprise that many of us don’t agree with Sen. Morrison’s thinking. It’s hard for people who didn’t grow up learning how to care for and use guns to understand anything but more gun control. Of course they believe more gun laws will stop gun crimes. All they see is the instrument. They cannot comprehend a culture that embraces the instrument. Sadly, the culture they can’t comprehend understands how the right upbringing and training can help families use guns to protect themselves and their property.

Illinois is not like Denmark. Our culture varies wildly from Cook and the collars to the remaining 93 counties. A ban does not respect the rights of downstate folks to continue embracing their 2nd Amendment right. SB 107 is an attack on gun rights plain and simple. Are there new laws we could pass to increase safety that would also respect gun rights? Yes. SB107 is not one of them.

I will continue to work with my colleagues for common-sense legislation that will benefit working families and provide real solutions for our problems.

If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, you can reach me or Glenda at 815-284-0045 or visit my website at and use the form to send me an e-mail.

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