Its hard to believe how fast another year has gone by, and that Christmas is already here. I have said it before, and I will say it again, Christmas is a great time of year. It is full of hope and joy, opportunity and care. Christmas brings the promise that all things can become new. Looking back at the past year, we have been very blessed. We have many committed local public servants working diligently to meet the public trust. Freeport elected its first woman as mayor, and changed its form of government to better serve the taxpayers. Our local economy is moving forward with many regional businesses expanding and looking for qualified staff. MetLife has returned to Freeport! At my Annual Christmas Party, I was impressed to see so many young professionals who have joined our community of solidly growing businesses. I had the opportunity to engage with some of these young professionals at the Leadership Institutes December class held at Highland Community College. I would like to thank program administrator, Jim Phillips, for inviting us to share our experience with the students. We spent an hour discussing state government, both its challenges and opportunities for our community. The questions were thoughtful and spoke volumes about the exceptional quality of the Leadership Institute and its participants. Our future is bright indeed. The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program, RSVP, once again honored its volunteers for another year of exceptional community service. Over 4,000 hours were donated to the community with a value of over $1,000,000! In todays world, it is easy to be cynical and skeptical about our future. These folks give us hope that our best days lie ahead. We are blessed indeed. Taking stock of our blessings will help us prepare for the New Year of 2018, with all its challenges. We certainly endured challenges in 2017. The hope we had last Christmas that Republicans and Democrats in Springfield would put aside partisan blinders and come together to serve the public interest was in fact, not the case. Instead, we saw a massive tax increase rammed through, picking the pockets of Illinois families in the process. The average Illinois family now has an overall state and local tax burden that is greater than any state in the country! We are being overtaxed, with nothing but mountains of unpaid bills to show for it. Illinoisans have also been saddled with a budget deficit of 1.7 billion dollars for this year alone. Not only were our wallets stripped, our children and grandchildren will be forced to pay the piper if we do not find another way forward. With this unbalanced budget came increased charges and fees to local governments and businesses. These charges are forcing local governments across the state to choose between cutting essential public services or raising our local taxes. We need to do better in 2018. We deserve better. I am committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to pass a balanced budget, economic development incentives, cost saving measures, property tax reform, a fully funded capital plan geared towards renewing and expanding our infrastructure to better serve all of Illinois, and to finally have serious discussions on welfare reform including photo identification. This Christmas reminds me of two quotes, the first by Bob Hope who said When we recall Christmas past, we usually find that the simplest things - not the great occasions - give off the greatest glow of happiness. And the second by Joel Osteen who said Christmas is the perfect time to celebrate the love of God and family and to create memories that will last forever. Jesus is Gods perfect, indescribable gift. The amazing thing is that not only are we able to receive this gift, but we are able to share it with others on Christmas and every other day of the year. I wish you all enjoy a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday season. As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or on Facebook.