The close of the year invites us to reflect upon 2016. I am grateful for many acts of kindness shown to me. However, I also am deeply troubled about the future of our state.
Our state has not had a real spending plan for two years. Politicians pursue personal agendas rather than address the problems that every-day people can plainly see.
I did not always think this way. There is a bit of theatrics at all levels of government. Most of us understand and accept this because, at seemingly the last moment, calmer heads prevail. Agreements are reached.
That has not happened in our state government. The Governor has cancelled meetings to discuss the budget. There is no end in sight.
I still believe Illinois is a great state. However, this unnecessary impasse is tearing the very fabric that makes us great. We can sew patches to cover the holes. Doing so only hides the flaws. The stitching never makes the garment as strong as it used to be.
We must stand and tell our leaders that we will not allow them to gamble with our future. Our voices must be firm yet respectful as we demand an end to this game.
Still, I believe there are reasons for hope.
I remain optimistic because I see my daughter and her friends and I hear their laughter. It is these images that inspire me to make decisions that will benefit the next generation.
These conversations are not easy. Walking away, however, afraid to challenge the status quo, is not the way to bring our children a better future. This year, we have faced complicated problems, identified solutions, and helped many people.
When we heard that life insurance companies were not paying death benefits, we were curious. When we determined some companies were doing so intentionally to fatten profit margins, we were stunned. The insurance lobby told us that there was nothing that could be done because this was the way some life insurers have done business for decades and it was legal. Instead of accepting such absurdity, we told them that just because something is legal does not make it right. Then, we told the same story to lawmakers, both Republican and Democrat, and we found real people whose mothers and fathers, whose sons, daughters, and friends, should have received life insurance proceeds but did not. Working together, we brought commonsense changes to the law. That is how we respect the wishes of our loved ones.
When we approached our college savings investment team and told them they needed to do more with less, they simply said no. They said it was impossible. We could have walked away. We could have told people that nothing could be done about higher investment costs. However, that’s not what we did. Instead, we came back to the group and asked to talk again. Working together, we were able to reach a solution that helped everyone, respected everyone, and reduced fees by 57 percent. That is how we provide a brighter future for our children.
When we looked at the money managers for the state, we saw a disturbing lack of diversity and opportunity for new ideas. We could have accepted this rather than risk the uncertainty of change. Instead, we decided we needed new ideas. We went out and encouraged minorities, Veterans, women, and individuals with a disability to seek business with the state of Illinois. Our efforts have paid off. That is how we help those who have been shut out of opportunities with the state.
When families with loved ones that have blindness or a disability told us that they needed a better way to save for future expenses, the investment experts told us the fees would be prohibitively high. Not enough families, they said, needed their service so there was not the critical mass needed to pool resources to keep investment costs affordable. Starting a program in Illinois, they said, would not succeed because the costs would be too high. They made a fair point and we thanked them for their honesty. Then, we went about the business of finding a solution. We began to speak with other states. We believe if we can create that critical mass, if we can work with other states to drive down costs, then we will have found a solution to help these great families. I am encouraged that we will be able to share a success story very soon.
None of these would be possible without the dedicated team at the Treasurer’s Office. Through your ideas and their hard work, we created the change and opportunity to improve our state. We did so while respecting taxpayer money as our investments and programs returned $28 to the state’s coffers for every $1 spent in operations.
Change is never easy. First, we must stop hurting ourselves so the healing can begin. Then, we must take the bold steps necessary to help everyone in our state, not just the select few. That is my new year’s resolution, to fight even harder on behalf of our neighbors, on behalf of our seniors, and on behalf of our children. Working together, we can achieve great things.
Michael W. Frerichs
Illinois State Treasurer
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