Marijuana legalization, gun control and tax reform were among the agenda items local politicians discussed at the 2018 Legislative Breakfast for members of the Evanston Chamber of Commerce on May 4.

The event, moderated by Mary Ann Ahern of NBC 5, was held at Rotary International headquarters in downtown Evanston and featured state Representatives Robyn Gabel and Laura Fine; State Senator Heather Steans; Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin; and Andrew Goczkowski, from the office of U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky.

Much of the discussion centered around the State’s budget woes, an issue that takes its toll on both rank-and-file politicians and small business owners.

The prospect of income tax reform, with a shift to a progressive income tax from Illinois’ current flat tax, was raised, but participants were not optimistic about a change anytime soon, since, under the best of circumstances, the earliest the item would appear on a referendum for voters would be November 2020.

“We need to use this [time] as an opportunity for education,” said Rep. Fine.

Sen. Steans added, “The big problem we have in Illinois is that our tax structure is not in sync with the way the economy grows.”

Sen. Steans filed a bill decriminalizing recreational marijuana and spoke about its potential impact, noting that opening the doors legislatively sets a viable infrastructure in place for use and sales.

“I now believe that prohibition does not work,” she said.

Commissioner Suffredin warned that, though he supported the legalization, politicians should not rely on it as a sole remedy to improve Illinois’ budget problems.

Rep. Gabel expressed confidence that the days of State government’s going for years at a time without a budget were past. She said legislators are the ones who pushed legislative leaders and Governor Bruce Rauner on the budget matter.

She added, “We don’t think it’s an option to not have a budget.”

Participants also addressed the shifting gun control landscape, as Illinois was among numerous locales where young people – many of whom have nationally born the brunt of much gun violence in high-profile school shootings – are taking control of the discourse around the issue.

Rep. Gabel spoke about a bill calling for courts to take away guns from a person should their family members indicate that the person is a danger to others or themselves.

“I’m optimistic that these high school students … are the ones who really are going to change things,” said Commissioner Suffredin.