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Coffee and Capitol gains: Local lawmakers tout ‘huge benefits’ of casual conversation with constituents

September 6, 2018

STERLING – State Sen. Neil Anderson and State Rep. Tony McCombie were in town for a Coffee and Conversation session with voters, the first of three they hosted in the area Wednesday.

The Republican duo started their day at Sterling’s Candlelight Inn before moving on to Prophetstown City Hall and the Masonic Lodge in Fulton.

Anderson and McCombie said they have come to rely heavily on the casual meetings with constituents.

“These are a huge benefit to us as legislators. We learn where you stand on the issues and then take the feedback with us back to Springfield,” Anderson said.

The lawmakers will be back in the state’s capital for a veto session that opens Nov. 13. Those sessions give sponsors of bills vetoed by the governor a chance to override the veto or accept changes to the bill.

The legislators also will focus on the budget, figuring out what revisions must be made. They see the budget as a step in the right direction, but realize much work remains.

“We passed a balanced budget for the first time in 17 years, but all we’ve done is stop the bleeding,” Anderson said. “We need real reforms that allow for the kind of business growth that creates a larger tax base.”

McCombie cited workers’ compensation as a structural reform that could make a big difference in unleashing business growth. Illinois’ workers’ compensation costs are much higher than its neighboring states, ranging on average from 8.3 percent higher than Wisconsin to 112 percent in Indiana.

A controversial bill that would have increased the minimum salary for full-time public school teachers to $40,000 could be revisited during the session. Lawmakers passed the bill in May, with supporters contending that it would help address the teacher shortage.

McCombie and Anderson, who both serve on education committees, have serious reservations about instituting a minimum wage.

“I would support creating a task force on this issue, but from a collective bargaining perspective, this bill could have opened the door to a lot of problems. I’d rather let teacher salaries be negotiated,” McCombie said.

Some constituents expressed their concerns about the continued growth of video gambling and the possible impact of a complex gambling expansion bill that stalled in a House committee in May.

“Nothing is set in stone with gambling,” said Anderson, who sits on the Senate Gaming Committee. “While the revenue from gambling is nice, we also have to consider how much revenue it’s chasing away.”

Anderson said lawmakers are working to change the law to give non-home rule cities more control over local gambling. As it now reads, only home rule cities are allowed to institute more restrictive gambling laws than those written by the state.

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