Illinois House Republican Leader talks state agenda with JUF Government Affairs Committee

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Rep. Jim Durkin, Illinois House Minority Leader, addresses JUF's Government Affairs Committee.

Despite the polar vortex weather conditions, Illinois Representative Jim Durkin (R-82) arrived at JUF on Jan. 27 prepared to talk shop with members.

Last August, Durkin’s Republican colleagues elected him as Minority Leader by a unanimous, 47-member vote. With votes on marriage equality and pension reform just two months after he was sworn in, Durkin had a very short honeymoon period before being called upon to lead the carving out process of the Republican House and approach these two controversial issues.

Pension reform topped the list. In the final hours of negotiations, Durkin recalls scrambling at the eleventh hour for support. “It was tough to find caucus members the day before Thanksgiving, but doing nothing was not an option.”

Durkin noted that, as Leader, his first priority is to field strong Republican candidates to take back some seats lost in 2012 when the House Democrats secured a veto-proof majority with a 41-vote advantage. After that, he looks to develop Republican positions in the General Assembly around a minimum wage increase, Medicaid reform, the Chicago Public School debt problem and the ongoing debate surrounding the City of Chicago’s underfunded pension system, the temporary income tax extension, and resolving the $8 million in unpaid state bills as well as the 2015 state budget.

Durkin spoke of his recent meeting with Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and told the Government Affairs Committee that he promised to help the mayor. “We cannot ignore the educational debt problem in Chicago,” he said.

Regarding a proposed increase in minimum wage, Durkin said he is open for discussion, but will not walk away without a reasonable compromise. However, he said it is highly unlikely his members will support an income tax extension when the current temporary income tax expires on Dec. 21 of this year. 

Durkin was born and raised as one of eight boys from Westchester, Ill., and currently raises four children in Illinois with his wife. Consequently, he is concerned about the fiscal health of the state with regards to the future. “I have seen young families question whether or not to raise their families in this state because of its fiscal problems,” he said.

Durkin calls for a wholesale change on how Illinois does business before state agencies spend more money.

Andy Hochberg, chair of the Government Affairs Committee, thanked Leader Durkin for his comments and said he looks forward to meeting with him again on the JUF Springfield Mission, which begins Apr. 30.


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