“What is truth?” It’s a question as old as western civilization. But with each passing day, it feels like lies and “spin” are winning in the public arena over truth.

For instance, there’s a new movie in the theaters with the title, “Truth.” Such a title would be fine, except that this alleged “real-life story” was definitively proven to be false. The topic of that particular movie is the CBS 60 Minutes investigative report in 2004 which attacked George W. Bush’s military service. Independent investigations found the story to be fabricated, to the extent that this false report even cost larger-than-life anchor Dan Rather his job.

In our state politics, it’s getting even harder to recognize the truth. Some editorial pages covering Illinois’ budget stalemate talk about how terrible House Speaker Mike Madigan is, while others complain about how unreasonable Governor Bruce Rauner is. And, if you get your news from AFSCME, the primary state worker union, you’re getting regular emails telling you how Gov. Rauner is allegedly trying to put government workers out of house and home.

Even former Gov. Jim Edgar recently claimed that Gov. Rauner was holding the budget “hostage” by pushing for term limits, property tax relief, worker’s compensation reforms, and other items that would invigorate Illinois’ economic climate. Gov. Edgar urged that Gov. Rauner focus on what’s “doable.” That sort of talk sounds reasonable. However, the reality is that our elected officials have been “doing what’s doable” for decades. That sort of get-along, go-along government is the primary reason our state is in such a mess today.

As painful as it may be to admit, both parties helped sow the seeds of this problem. During Gov. Edgar’s administration, a “pension ramp” was adopted, which meant low payments to pensions in the then-near term (the 1990s and 2000s), with huge payments later (in the 2010s, 2020s, and beyond). By putting less money to pensions back then, the politicians had lots more money to spend on their pet projects and special interests. At this point today, most of those politicians are retired and receiving generous pensions, at your expense.

Well, Gov. Rauner wasn’t the governor in the 1990s or 2000s. Speaker Madigan was in place through the whole thing. Madigan negotiated that pension ramp and spent the excess money. Tough decisions on pension reform should have been made back in the 1990s, but the principle of “doing what’s doable” instead resulted in doing whatever Speaker Mike Madigan wanted.

When you read the news about the budget impasse, keep in mind that many of these supposed “non-budget” reforms are actually necessary to balance the budget. After decades of waste and abuse in Illinois government, it makes sense that substantial reforms would be required. For instance, the Governor has proposed reducing the state funds that are sent to municipalities, but he’s done so while also proposing to roll back state mandates that make local government too expensive. In this instance, cost savings from taking away those mandates has the potential to even out the reduced fund transfers from the state. That way, there’s no loss of services at the local level.

We started with a question about truth. Truth isn’t in the news reports and the prepared statements taken at face value. Truth in politics instead is found by following the money and the personal and special interests of the players. With a bit of work, we can see that truth with clear vision and hold our elected officials to account.
The Illinois House and Senate met in fall session on Tuesday, October 20, but once again the majority caucus in both chambers did not allow substantive action on the general funds portion of the FY16 budget. Instead of working on a balanced budget with necessary reforms, House Speaker Michael Madigan, once again, held a Committee of the Whole to discuss the negative consequences from there being no state budget. In the end, the majority offered only a piecemeal approach to funding certain programs. In order to turn Illinois around, we need a balanced budget with key reforms that will empower our state and local units of government to more effectively and efficiently spend our tax dollars. These reforms have been offered, but the majority has not seriously addressed them in the overall solution to the budget impasse. The next General Assembly session day is scheduled for Tuesday, November 10.

Rep. Breen Speaks with Students, Seniors and Scouts
Last week, I spoke with three different groups in the 48th District, discussing a wide range of topics. First, I addressed 150 social studies students from Glenbard West High School in Glen Ellyn, where a group of very engaged students stayed late on an early dismissal day to learn how their government works at the state level. We discussed topics from how I became a state representative to the budget impasse and the pension crisis. I let these young men and women know that while I am frustrated with the current happenings in the state capitol, I remain optimistic that fundamental reforms are coming soon that will put our great state onto a better economic path. I also told them how my education in electrical engineering and law was integral to my preparation for public service in the Illinois General Assembly.

Second, I stopped by the Brookdale Senior Center in Glen Ellyn to talk with the residents about the stalemate in Springfield and how the pension obligation is preventing Illinois from being able to adequately fund other areas of the budget.

Lastly, Boy Scouts Troop 51 in Lombard invited me to help the Scouts earn the Citizenship in the Community merit badge and an additional requirement for the boys’ advancement to their Boy Scout First Class rank. I was honored to facilitate the oral report process for such an impressive group of young mn. As an Eagle Scout myself, I truly appreciate the work these boys are doing and recognize how scouting prepares them for a successful adult life.

Rep. Breen Partners with Sen. Nybo and Local Groups for Drive to Benefit Overseas Troops
I’m pleased to be partnering with Senator Chris Nybo, the Ladies Auxiliary to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the local Lilac Post 5815 for a “Support Our Troops” Collection Drive for Christmas this year. The tradition of sending care packages to our service men and women who are serving overseas is a simple way that we can express our thanks for their sacrifices on behalf of our country. Together, in this local effort, we can let them know of our deep appreciation for them and their dedication to protecting our freedoms.

The legislative office that Sen. Nybo and I share will serve as a drop-off location for items to be collected. Donations will be accepted from October 26 through November 13 during our normal business hours of 9:00 AM until 3:30 PM, Monday through Friday. Our office is located at 929 S. Main Street, Suite 105A in Lombard. We would also like to send care packages specifically to local soldiers from the area (IL Senate District 24 or IL House District 48). If you know of a local friend, family member or loved one who is currently serving in the military and is deployed overseas, please contact my office at (630) 403-8135 and provide the service member’s name and address.

Recommended items to be included in the care packages include:
  • Books, magazines, crossword and word search puzzles, coloring books, colored pencils, dominoes, checkers or chess games 
  • iTunes Gift Cards, headphones/ear buds, DVD movies or television shows, small video games, international calling cards 
  • Baby wipes, deodorant, Kleenex, lotion, toothpaste/toothbrush, shampoo, soap, female hygiene items, shaving cream, razors 
  • Beef jerky, powdered drink mix, coffee, granola or protein bars, trail mix, dry snacks, mixed nuts 
  • Laundry detergent, fabric softener, dryer sheets, air fresheners 
  • Footballs, basketballs, soccer balls and frisbees 
Because the items will be mailed, aerosol cans/containers, food items that could melt or spoil and fragile items cannot be accepted. I hope you’ll help us make this event a successful one.

Rauner Administration Reaches Agreements with Trade Unions
After several months of good faith negotiations, Governor Bruce Rauner agreed to terms on new four-year collective bargaining agreements with the International Union of Operating Engineers, the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry, and the International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers. The last set of agreements expired June 30, 2015.

The new contracts cover workers at the Departments of Agriculture, Central Management Services, Corrections, Historic Preservation, Human Services, Juvenile Justice, Military Affairs, Transportation, Veterans’ Affairs, and the Illinois State Police. The employees are all professional tradesmen and women who work as stationary engineers and plant operators, plumbers and steamfitters, and machinists.

The tentative agreements are being submitted to the membership of the trade unions for a ratification vote. The terms of the tentative agreements are confidential until the end of the ratification process.

As a continuation of the productive negotiating sessions, the trade unions and the Governor’s Office also pledged to form a long-term relationship to improve employer-labor relations in state government.

Fitch, Moody’s Downgrade Illinois
Fitch Ratings, whose credit ratings are closely watched by Wall Street and the global investment community, reduced Illinois’ “general obligation” (GO) bond rating from single-A-minus, the former ranking, to one notch closer to junk-bond status on Monday, October 19. The new BBB+ rating is only two notches above the lowest investment-grade rating (BBB-) and is three notches above BB+, which signals non-investment-grade (“junk bond”) status. Illinois’ GO bond rating is the lowest among the 50 states.

Following Fitch’s downgrade, Moody’s Investor Services downgraded its ratings on Illinois bonds. Thursday, Moody’s downgraded Illinois outstanding $27 billion of GO bonds to Baa1 from A3, while also lowering ratings on the state’s sales-tax (Build Illinois) bonds to Baa1 from A3, and on the state’s subject to appropriation bonds to Baa2 from Baa1. The outlook for all of these obligations remains negative.

As your voice in Springfield, I’m working to make our state and our communities the best they can be. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact my district office at (630) 403-8135 or visit reppeterbreen.org.
State Senator Chris Nybo (R-Elmhurst) and State Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) are partnering with the Ladies Auxiliary to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the local Lilac Post 5815 for a “Support Our Troops” Collection Drive for Christmas this year.

“The tradition of sending care packages to our service men and women is a simple way that we can express our thanks for their sacrifices on behalf of our country,” said Breen. “Together, in this local effort, we can let them know of our deep appreciation for them and their dedication to protecting our freedoms.”

The Nybo/Breen legislative office at 929 S. Main Street, Suite 105A in Lombard will serve as a drop-off location for items to be donated to U.S. troops serving overseas. Donations will be accepted from October 26 through November 13 during normal business hours of 9:00 AM until 3:30 PM, Monday through Friday. The legislators would also like to send care packages specifically to local soldiers from the area (IL Senate District 24 or IL House District 48). Friends and family with loved ones from the area who are currently serving in the military are encouraged to contact the Nybo/Breen office with their name and address.

"Our nation's greatness comes from the leadership and dedication of our military - both past and present - and the sacrifices they make on our behalf. Rep. Breen and I want these brave young men and women to know how much we all appreciate their service," said Nybo. "Supporting our troops is as easy as buying a few of the suggested items the next time you're in the grocery store, and bringing them to our legislative offices. Your thoughtfulness will mean so much to the men and women who are a long way from home."

Recommended items to be included in the care packages include:
  • Books, magazines, crossword and word search puzzles, coloring books, colored pencils, dominoes, checkers or chess games 
  • iTunes Gift Cards, headphones/ear buds, DVD movies or television shows, small video games, international calling cards 
  • Baby wipes, deodorant, Kleenex, lotion, toothpaste/toothbrush, shampoo, soap, female hygiene items, shaving cream, razors 
  • Beef jerky, powdered drink mix, coffee, granola or protein bars, trail mix, dry snacks, mixed nuts 
  • Laundry detergent, fabric softener, dryer sheets, air fresheners 
  • Footballs, basketballs, soccer balls and frisbees 
Because the items will be mailed, aerosol cans/containers, food items that could melt or spoil and fragile items cannot be accepted.

For more information about the collection drive, or to leave contact information for a specific member of the service, please call Senator Nybo’s office at (630) 969-0990 or Representative Breen’s office at (630) 403-8135.
To say that folks are angry and frustrated with politics right now would be an understatement. In fact, it seems that the entire country is fed up with politicians and the political establishment. You can see it in the rise of “outsider” candidates in the presidential primaries. From Donald Trump to Bernie Sanders, majorities of Americans want a change from the status quo—and they don't care how outrageous the statements or positions of a particular candidate may be, as long as they will upend the established order.

Here in Illinois, we are no strangers to anger and frustration at the political process. I recently gave a talk to a bipartisan group at the Beacon Hill senior community in Lombard. We talked about the lack of an Illinois budget, about House Speaker Michael Madigan, and about Governor Bruce Rauner.

While folks were almost unanimous in their dislike of Speaker Madigan, there were divisions on Governor Rauner. To that end, I wanted to see what the folks at Beacon Hill thought of recent poll results I’d seen relating to the Governor. The poll stated that the Governor’s approval rating is around 45 percent of Illinoisans, and his disapproval rating is around 40 percent. (Normally, an incumbent with an approval rate below 50 percent is considered “in danger.”)

However, that poll also had tested another question—whether folks agreed or disagreed with the statement, “Bruce Rauner is trying to shake things up in Springfield, but the career politicians are standing in his way.” The poll results were 71 percent yes to just 21 percent no.

I asked the seniors at Beacon Hill whether they agreed with that statement or not. Nearly every head in the room nodded in approval. In fact, not a single person in that room full of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents disagreed.

To me, that result speaks louder than the standard approval/disapproval numbers that pundits watch. In this environment of anger and frustration, the public will support an authentic elected leader every time against a status quo politician.

We’ve seen examples locally, too, most recently with the housecleaning at College of DuPage, where the voters chose all new leaders for that school board, even though all of those candidates had little or no prior elected experience.

As we are now in the fourth month of our Illinois budget impasse and government “shutdown,” the lines are clearly drawn between reform and “the way it’s always been.” But, unlike previous years, the people of this State have had enough—they’re sick and tired of the same old, same old.

That’s why I tell folks that I’m more hopeful today about the future of this State than I’ve been in decades. We all know that our elected officials failed us, by not dealing with our structural financial issues of debt, pensions, health care, and the like, many years ago. But, the upside is that fight for the heart and soul of Illinois is raging, right here, right now.

Not only is that debate finally happening, but it’s happening under the bright spotlight of public scrutiny.

I am confident that, at the end of this battle over budget and reform, the people of Illinois will know exactly where their political leaders stand. My great hope is, at that point, the people of this State, through their sacred right to vote, will then act accordingly.

Comptroller Munger: Illinois Can’t Make its November Pension Payment
Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger announced yesterday that her office is unable to make the state’s $560 million pension payment for November. Comparing the state to a household drowning in debt, Munger said the lack of a budget has created a situation where the state simply does not have enough money to make the mandatory payment. She reiterated, however, that retirees will still receive their benefit checks. “The monthly pension payment of $560 million is the largest consistent expenditure that we have through the year, and it is one of the few areas we have had some flexibility because it is not covered by a court order and the delay will not cause immediate hardship,” Munger said. “We will still send out retirement checks, but we will have to tap the corpus of the retirement funds to do so.”

According to Munger, as of this week the state has only $142 million on hand, and the debt total stands at $6.9 billion. She expects that number to grow to $8.5 billion by the end of the year.

Governor Rauner Announces Intention to Sell Thompson Center in Chicago
This week Governor Rauner announced that he wants to sell the James R. Thompson Center, home base for more than 2,200 state employees and 280 non-government workers. During his announcement on Tuesday, Rauner said the 1.2 million square-foot building could generate $20 million annually in new Chicago and CPS taxes. The building cost $172 million to build, and it was completed in 1985. The Governor said he would like to see the building on the auction block within the next year. “From a pure financial point of view, this is a compelling opportunity for the people of Illinois,” said Rauner during his press conference.

The dilapidated 17-story building is in a state of disrepair, and Rauner estimated that it will need more than $100 million in maintenance over the next few years.
Breen Files Bill to Protect Vehicle Owners from Late Registration Renewal Fees
With 90% of our state’s budget dollars flowing even in the absence of an approved budget, most Illinoisans have only been minimally impacted by the budget stalemate in Springfield. However, now the effects are beginning to trickle down and impact vehicle owners. Last week Secretary of State Jesse White announced that his office would no longer be able to mail vehicle registration renewal reminders. In his announcement, Secretary White said the suspension of the letters would save his office approximately $450,000 per month, and free up funds that would allow him to continue mailing vehicle stickers to vehicle owners. He encouraged people to use this link to sign up for an email reminder that a vehicle registration renewal is coming due.

The email reminders are a great idea, but what about seniors and others who do not have routine access to computers or email? To keep these people from falling in between the cracks on this issue, this week I took legislative action by filing HB 4306, a measure that would protect motorists from fines and extra fees during this unprecedented budget impasse. Current Illinois law does not allow the Secretary of State to legally waive these late fees.

HB 4306 would prohibit the Secretary of State from imposing a delinquent registration renewal fee when the registered owner of the vehicle has not been provided with either a postage mail or an emailed notice of the date the registration expires. The bill also provides for a one-month grace period for those who have received notice, before a $20 delinquent fee is imposed.

I would encourage everyone to sign up for the email reminders utilizing the link above. For those without email or internet access, you can also renew your sticker either in person at your local Secretary of State office or through the mail. For both options, you need to identify your pin number, which is on your registration card. If mailing, you will need to include your license plate type and number and your renewal check or money order, and mail to Secretary of State, Vehicle Services Department, 501 S. 2nd Street, Room 011, Springfield, IL. 62756. The renewal cost is the same as last year.

Breen Talks with Beacon Hill Residents about the Budget, Taxes and other Springfield Issues
On Monday I had the pleasure of talking with about 50 seniors who live at the Beacon Hill Retirement Center in Lombard. I provided an update about what is (and unfortunately what is not) going on in Springfield, and spoke about how, four months into the budget impasse, Illinois’ pile of unpaid bills continues to grow. I explained that while I am deeply concerned about the current state of Illinois, I am also extremely optimistic that meaningful change to the status quo is right around the corner.
After my 15-minute presentation, I spent a great deal of time answering questions from the intelligent group of interested taxpayers. We discussed pension reform, Governor Rauner’s Turnaround agenda and how his initiatives would positively impact future budgets. It was a delight to meet with these constituents, and I look forward to a return visit.

Legislative Advisory Council Reconvenes for Meeting of the Whole
The Legislative Advisory Council that I created with Senator Chris Nybo (R-Elmhurst) and State Rep. Patti Bellock (R-Hinsdale) presented committee updates at Monday’s meeting. This dedicated group of involved citizens is helping us develop new ideas for legislation and evaluate current proposals being considered in Springfield. The Council’s committees include Education, Health and Human Services, Energy and Environment, Seniors and Veterans, State Finances and Economic Growth, Transportation, and Business and Economic Expansion. Each group spent 10-15 minutes providing an update of their research completed over the last four months, and discussions were held about how to target future research. I was truly impressed by their depth of knowledge and commitment to our state.
At the meeting, Emily Shields, a special education teacher for the DuPage County Cooperative Association for Special Education (CASE), received the first ever Inspiring Educator Award for Senate District 24, which includes the House Districts for Rep. Bellock and me. She was nominated by a Glen Ellyn parent of a CASE student who made tremendous progress during his time in Shields’ classroom. In the photo to the right, Shields and I are shown with Rep. Bellock, Senator Nybo, CASE Executive Director Jim Nelson and CASE Assistant Director Cindy D’Ambrosio.

The Council and its subcommittees will continue to meet monthly throughout the legislative year. New members are always welcome to apply. If you are interested in volunteering your time and talents on one of our committees, please contact my office at (630) 403-8135, or email me using the contact form found at www.reppeterbreen.org.

Lombard Residents Honored at Community Senior Fair
On Wednesday, my office had an information booth at the 10th annual Lombard Senior Fair, and my staff and I thoroughly enjoyed visiting with the residents who attended the event. I was glad to be able to talk to so many residents about issues that matter to them. Congratulations to Lombard residents Lonnie Morris and Marv Schulgen for receiving the Senior of the Year awards for 2015! I am grateful to their service to the community. It was an honor to be a part of the award presentation with Lombard’s Village President Keith Giagnorio and Trustee Robyn Pike.
Lawmakers follow a report given by the Legislative Advisory
Council's Education Funding Committee.
The Legislative Advisory Council created by three local lawmakers presented updates on its research into state issues as it reconvened for a Meeting of the Whole Oct. 5 at Beacon Hill Retirement Community in Lombard.

State Sen. Chris Nybo (R-Elmhurst) said Council members are working with him, State Rep. Peter Breen (R-Lombard) and State Rep. Patti Bellock (R-Hinsdale) to develop new ideas and evaluate current proposals being considered in Springfield. More than 50 local residents attended the meeting.

“During the Council’s Meeting of the Whole Oct. 5, we heard from each Committee about its work since the first meeting in June,” Sen. Nybo said. “These Council members are working closely with my office on the kind of in-depth research and significant information that can be the basis of legislation I can introduce before the General Assembly.”

A local teacher is honored for her selection as the Legislative
Advisory Council's Teacher of the Year.
The Council’s Committees include Education, Health and Human Services, Energy and Environment, Seniors and Veterans, State Finances and Economic Growth, Transportation, and Business and Economic Expansion.

“The citizens who have volunteered their time and talents to these committees have an impressive depth of knowledge,” Breen said. “I am specifically impressed that their research includes a study into what other states are doing well with regard to key issues such as school funding, managed health care and economic growth.”

Committee members must be at least 18 years of age and residents of the 24th Legislative Senate District, which includes the 47th and 48th Legislative House Districts.

“The local residents on our Legislative Advisory Council continue to provide exceptional feedback on a wide range of issues facing our community and state,” Bellock said. “As legislators, we are grateful for their input and look forward to building on the Council’s success by actively bringing their ideas to Springfield to improve the quality of life for every family in Illinois.”

The Legislative Advisory Council will continue to hold monthly meetings throughout the legislative year, and new committee members are always welcome to apply. For more information or to submit a membership application, contact Breen’s office at (630) 403-8135, or email his office through the web form located at www.reppeterbreen.org. You may also receive information by contacting Nybo’s office at (630) 969-0990, or by emailing his office at chris@chrisnybo.org.
As the effects of Illinois’ budget impasse begin to impact vehicle owners, State Representative Peter Breen (R-Lombard) filed legislation today to protect them from late fees that could result from the Secretary of State’s recent decision to suspend the mailing of reminders for vehicle registration renewals. Current Illinois law does not allow the Secretary of State to legally waive these late fees.

“The suspension of this important service is the latest fallout from the lack of an approved Fiscal Year 2016 budget in Illinois,” said Breen. “Secretary of State Jesse White has made a decision that will allow the functions of his office to continue for a few more months, and I respect his decision. However, motorists rely on those notices and should not be penalized for the legislature’s inability to get a budget approved.”

HB 4306 would amend the Illinois Vehicle Code by prohibiting the Secretary of State from imposing a delinquent registration renewal fee when the registered owner of the vehicle has not been provided with either a postage mail or an emailed notice of the date the registration expires. The bill also provides that reminder notices will state that a $20 delinquent fee may be imposed if a vehicle owner does not renew the registration within one month of the expiration.

When making the announcement about suspending the mailings, Secretary White encouraged vehicle owners to utilize a website link to sign up for an email reminder that a vehicle registration is about to expire. “While I believe many people will take advantage of the email notification alternative, I worry about seniors and others who do not have routine access to computers and email,” said Breen. “People who don’t use email are going to fall through the cracks and face unfair fees through no fault of their own. HB 4306 would provide protective measures during this unprecedented time in Illinois history.”

Breen is hoping his bill will be debated and voted upon during the upcoming veto session.

To sign up for email reminders, go to www.cyberdriveillinois.com. For those without email or internet access, you can renew either in person at your local Secretary of State office or through the mail. For both options, you need to identify your pin number, which is on your registration card. If mailing, you will need to include your license plate type and number and your renewal check or money order, and mail to Secretary of State, Vehicle Services Department, 501 S. 2nd Street, Room 011, Springfield, IL. 62756. The renewal cost is the same as last year.
Representative Breen Calls for Amnesty for Late Vehicle Registration Renewals During Budget Impasse
As Illinois enters its fourth month without an approved and sustainable budget, the effects of the impasse are now reaching Illinoisans who own vehicles. Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White has announced that his office will immediately suspend mailing out vehicle registration renewal reminders to the public due to the lack of a state budget. Those who want to continue receiving a reminder must now sign up to receive electronic notices through this link.

I am in the process of filing legislation that would prohibit the Secretary of State’s office from issuing late fees when motorists have not been notified by email or U.S. Mail that their registration renewal is due. Folks should not be forced to pay late fees or tickets if they are late renewing their registration during this unprecedented budget impasse.

When making the announcement, Secretary White noted that the renewal reminder mailings cost the state approximately $450,000 per month. According to White, unless a budget is approved, his postage account will be completely depleted in a few months, which would prevent the mailing of vehicle registration renewal stickers, titles, and license plates to vehicle owners.

In the meantime, I strongly encourage you to sign up for the email notifications right away. You will need to locate and have handy your annual vehicle registration document, which contains your "Registration ID" and "PIN," usually located in the top right corner of the registration document. If you receive an email reminder, that will also include the PIN number for on-line renewal of vehicle registration stickers. Click here to view an FAQ about to this issue.

Representative Breen Hosts Celebration for Summer Reading Program Participants
This week, we celebrated with more than 65 children and parents for their successful completion of my first annual summer reading program. We gathered at Sacred Heart Parish Center in Lombard and enjoyed dinner, deserts, and prizes, all supplied by generous local businesses. After dinner, I even got to read to the children and talk with them about their favorite books. Each child received an Illinois House certificate of recognition, along with an insulated lunch bag filled with coupons for local businesses and restaurants. Reading is an essential part of everyday life, and reading over the summer is especially important to help children grow in their love of this vital skill and rewarding pastime. A total of 67 children participated in the reading program this year, and I hope to see an even greater level of involvement next summer.

Representative Breen Reflects on Papal Visit
This past week, Pope Francis captured the attention of our nation. His visit brought tears to the eyes of otherwise-cynical TV commentators. The Speaker of the U.S. House, John Boehner, even decided to step down in the wake of the first-ever address by the Roman Pontiff to Congress. We haven’t seen a papal reception like this since Pope John Paul II visited in 1979.

In the wall-to-wall TV coverage of Pope Francis, the reporters discussed his speeches in detail, which covered a range of subjects, from the environment to religious liberty, from immigration to the protection of life. But the Pope didn’t lay out a political program – what he shared with our nation is a set of guiding principles. While we are deluged every day by various “programs,” “solutions,” and “four-point plans,” we don’t hear a lot of talk about principles in our political discussions. Not so with the Pope.

If you look past the political commentators, you see that the real focus of the Pope’s message was on the virtues of faith, hope and love. In his final homily at Sunday Mass in Philadelphia, Pope Francis summed it up in his words on the family. What touched me was when he talked about the little ways we show love in our family. He spoke of how these gestures of love begin in the family and radiate out into the world and those we encounter:

“How are we trying to live this way in our homes, in our societies? What kind of world do we want to leave to our children? We cannot answer these questions alone, by ourselves. It is the Spirit who challenges us to respond as part of the great human family. Our common house can no longer tolerate sterile divisions.”

These words can be applied to many different scenarios and issues – to what happens in your home and mine. How do we treat each other? Are we truly doing unto others as we would have them do unto us? The Golden Rule is simple, but certainly not easy to follow!

Despite the media reports, Pope Francis is not preaching a different Gospel than that preached by Pope Benedict or Pope John Paul II. For instance, Pope John Paul II regularly spoke of “solidarity” and the common bonds of fraternity and responsibility between all peoples.

Looking specifically at Pope Francis’ words, I ask myself how the Illinois General Assembly is doing. What kind of state are we leaving for our children? On the one hand, are we truly caring for the most vulnerable when our funding for the developmentally disabled is the worst in the country? Yet we rack up debt because we refuse measures like pension reform – and refuse to even discuss how to pay for government pensions. Is it right to put off paying for these obligations and instead force our children and grandchildren to pay for them?

The principles that Pope Francis has shared are timeless, and if we can agree on the principles, they can guide our consideration of specific policies to improve our common life together. We can look critically at how our government should spend the taxpayer dollars entrusted to it. We can carefully review our laws and legal structures to cut waste and abuse. We can ask whether government policies promote or hurt the family. Then together, we can truly make our state a bit more faithful, a bit more hopeful, and a bit more loving.