Illinois Republican Jeff Keicher is the freshman Representative for the State's 70th House District, which includes parts of DeKalb, Kane, and Boone counties. He sat down in the WNIJ studios to discuss the end of the recent legislative session.
He said quite a lot was accomplished, considering the position his party was in.
"I think the first thing that we need to do is we need a realistic reflection of what we walked into," Keicher said. "So as a Republican, we walked into a General Assembly where we were in the superminority in both the House and the Senate. There are 44 Republicans in the House and 74 Democrats. What that means is the Democrats don't need Republican help to pass any of their legislative priorities. We saw that come into play on a couple of critical issues. But we also saw the vast majority of bills that came out this year, 90-some-odd percent, were passed on a bipartisan basis. You know, there wasn't a lot of party against party. It was issues that are important to the people of Illinois, and a bipartisan spirit certainly prevailed."
He went on to describe several proposals passed in the General Assembly that would help Illinois businesses. One of them in particular dealt with data centers.
"What the incentive package says is a datacenter that's going to build in excess of $250 million worth of facility, they're going to hire at least 20 employees that are paid at least 125% of the average wages for the area, and will have the opportunity to have an incentive against their state income tax for the infrastructure that they put into place," Keicher said. "So think the racks, the computers, the wiring, and this type of thing. We were also able to help nearly 300,000 small business owners by elimination of the franchise tax. So this is a minor nuisance tax, if you will, that requires them to hire an accountant or an attorney each year to file the tax form. And we phase that out a little bit. So 300,000 small businesses are going to have one less form and one less tax to pay."
Keicher also brought up construction-related incentives.
"What the Blue Collar Jobs Act does is it provides an incentive to projects where you are adding employees on a large scale construction project. And it provides the employer a credit against the tax that they pay on the employment side."
But he had different opinions regarding certain budget measures, among them the graduuated income tax referendum.
"I feel it gives the Illinois legislature too much leeway in increasing taxation little by little. If they have a budget hole or a new priority that they want to do, they can increase the income tax on a cohort of 20,000 households in the state of Illinois. Currently, under the flat tax system, it's more painful because everybody pays a little bit more, which really forces the legislature to think about their priorities, to think about how we want to spend this money and whether it's the best, highest use for the taxpayer revenue," he said.
He also had reservations about changes to the Illinois minimum wage.
"The minimum wage will increase within 12 months and one day, from $8.25 to $11. That represents a 33% increase in the minimum wage within basically a calendar year. That's a lot to take. That pushes a lot of stress on non-for-profits and small businesses that I don't know is appropriate given this time. So what we had really hoped for through negotiation was more of a longer timeline in more rural areas outside of Cook County in the Collar areas. But that didn't come to fruition. So yeah, that was one of the bigger losses that we had over the course of this past year."
He concluded by reflecting on his position as a freshman lawmaker in the General Assembly.
"You quickly develop a peer network of freshmen on both sides of the aisle that you visit with on how things are progressing. And then you find some mentors within your caucus that are able to be guideposts to you through the process. And what was very heartening is how passionate everybody is about doing right for the state of Illinois. That doesn't always make it through. You know, all that gets played on the news are the snippets of the arguments and the things that didn't go according to plan. But in general, there's a lot of collegiality, a lot of goodwill, and a lot of well-wishes because at the end of the day, when we hang our hat, we're hanging our hat on the fact that Illinois is going to be an amazing place to live in the future."