110th District Illinois House Race Interview: Reggie Phillips
State Representative Reggie Phillips is a Charleston businessman whose businesses include residential and commercial building construction, student apartment rentals, a hotel, two restaurants and a chain of assisted living facilities.
He was first elected to the Illinois House in 2014, succeeding Republican Brad Halbrook, who’s running this year for the GOP nomination in the neighboring 102nd House District.
The 110th Illinois House District stretches through Coles, Cumberland, Clark and Crawford Counties in eastern Illinois. It’s home to Eastern Illinois University, a state university that’s been hurt by the eight-month-old state budget impasse. The university has laid off employees, and Moody’s recently downgraded its bond rating.
Phillips says that restoring state higher education funding is his top priority --- and he wants to do it quickly, separate from a budget settlement, which he believes could be slow in coming.
“I honestly believe that the budget impasse could go into November past the elections,” Phillips told Illinois Public Media’s Jim Meadows.
Phillips supports Governor Bruce Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda and has received a campaign contribution from Rauner’s campaign fund. But he hopes to persuade Rauner to reduce the budget cuts proposed for higher education --- about 33 percent for the current fiscal year and 20 percent for FY 2017. Phillips says a 10 percent cut in state funding is all that state schools like Eastern Illinois University can realistically bear for now.
Without a budget settlement, Phillips says funding for higher education could be paid for reforms in procurement procedures, or by legislation allowing the governor to “sweep” excess fund balances to other state funds (Phillips is co-sponsor with Democrat Ken Dunkin a House bill for the latter proposal).
Both of these proposals have gone nowhere in the General Assembly, and for that, and the rest of the state budget impasse, Phillips blames the Democratic Illinois House Speaker, Michael Madigan.
“The only reason he (Madigan) exists is to continue his supermajority and with that supermajority, he controls Illinois politics,” said Phillips, who says Madigan’s reign as the Democrats’ House leader coincides with Illinois’ mounting problems. He says those include high workers compensation costs, businesses leaving Illinois, and sluggish employment compared to Indiana and other neighboring states.
Phillips supports Governor Rauner’s proposal that Democrats approve just a few of his Turnaround Agenda items in exchange for a budget settlement. He says the governor is now giving a handful of proposals priority, such as workers compensation reform and tort reform. He says other proposals such as local Right-To-Work zones (which Phillips supported in his 2014 campaign) and term limits are “dead issues” for now. But he believes Democratic lawmakers may find the other proposals attractive, because they are directly connected to promoting job growth.
“They’re interested in jobs,” said Phillips, “but right now they set and take the scraps from Madigan’s table … And I’m trying to convince them, you’ll have a win-win scenario if you break from that kind of mentality, and work with us.”
And if Democrats approve some of the Turnaround Agenda items sought by Gov. Rauner, Phillips says he’s ready to support something he’s opposed up to now --- a return to the higher state income tax rate that was enacted in 2011 but expired in 2015.
“We’re going to have to have an increased tax,” said Phillips. “And I hate that, but here’s the deal. If that’s what we need to save our universities, and we need to compromise with that, and they need to give us economic reforms, I’ll give them the taxes.”
After just a year in office, Phillips says the job of state representative has been “exhausting and exasperating”, but he’s glad he did it because of what he’s learned from the experience. He says it’s not a job for the thin-skinned, and that he’s set himself up for criticism due to his outspoken personality. But Phillips says his outspokenness is necessary. He says if Republicans had been more outspoken during the years that Democrats were in the governor’s office, “we wouldn’t be all the way down to the point where we’re 50th ranked in everything”.