CHARLESTON -- Inching closer to the general election, incumbent state Rep. Reggie Phillips, R-Charleston, sees the criticism he has received about where his allegiances lie, specifically in regard to Eastern Illinois University, as purely political.
“Nobody was working harder for Eastern Illinois University than me,” Phillips said. “This perception that I am wanting to see my business close is insane. Oh yeah, that would be fun. I love the idea of going bankrupt.”
In this last year of Phillips’ term as the 110th District state representative, he has garnered judgment of the way in which he represented EIU.
This judgment stemmed from issues that arose in his district’s university. Eastern, along with the most other state universities, struggled without any funding from the state for over a year. Much of the criticism of Phillips centered around him voting against bills that would have technically appropriated money to the university.
Phillips and other Republicans saw these bills as empty gestures without a reliable funding source to back them up.
Later, most of the Illinois General Assembly, including Phillips, backed a couple of stopgap funding bills to get the universities through to the first part of next year.
This funding is only expected to take the universities to December, though, and Phillips said he plans to make sure Eastern has the money to make it through that date moving forward.
He noted it is important that the next slate of funding to universities is not stopgap funding, but full appropriation support for the rest of the year. Although should there be no other way, he said he would make sure to get stopgap funding for Eastern at least.
Aside from the university, Phillips said he is focused on ensuring Illinois is business friendly through “structural reforms,” which he said has not been the case for years.
“Everybody would like to own their own business someday,” Phillips said. “That’s my big message going up there (to Springfield). Education is important, but without jobs what good is an education? They are hand in hand.”
These reforms include tort law, workers' compensation, pension and prevailing wage reform in the state.
Many of these reforms have been sticking points for Gov. Bruce Rauner and other Republican leaders in the state over the past year. Phillips has said he is in support of many of Rauner’s reforms.
Phillips believes these reforms are necessary to not only service business growth, but also crucial toward whittling down the growing debt the State of Illinois has incurred over the years. Phillips said workers' compensation law, specifically, should be changed.
As the state stands now, the number of hoops businesses have to go through is ridiculous, according to Phillips.
He said he understands cuts and reforms cannot fix it all, though. He would consider increases to taxes, specifically the corporate income tax, but only if state legislators take a hard look at some of those reforms.
“I am willing to talk about (corporate income taxes) if we can couple that with reforms,” Phillips said. “You can’t have one without the other.”
He said he just wants to minimize the inevitable hikes in taxes.
Should he be re-elected, Phillips said he would also focus changing some ways in which the state is run.
Other than calling for term limits and redistricting as he has rallied for in the state, he is also calling for a biennial budget cycle in order for it to avoid election cycles as well as ensure that should a budget not be in place, legislators are not paid.
“I bet (passing the budget) wouldn't be as controversial, now would it?” Phillips said.
While not a primary focus, he said he would also like to see longer budget cycles, potentially four-year budget cycles, for higher education instead of the current annual system so that when a student is enrolled at a university he or she knows that university will have money for his or her entire time there with no hiccups.
Phillips is contested by Dennis Malak in the race to be the local state representative for the next two years. The incumbent said he plans to make good on his promise to remain a two-term representative should he win; however, he would not rule out the possibility of running for a third term should he be called upon to do so.
“If I truly felt like we are moving the ball and that it was so important that I stay, we can look at that then,” Phillips said. “I’ll be 65 years old and I already got gray hair.”