Lawmakers hear support for education, safety, helping others

ROCK ISLAND — Let’s agree to fully fund three areas: education, public safety and folks who can’t make it on their own, said state Sen. Neil Anderson, R-Andalusia. 

His remarks drew a  consensus applause Thursday during a “Coffee and Conversation” program at Theo’s Java Club, 213 17th St., Rock Island, that also featured state Rep. Tony McCombie, R-Savanna, and Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms.

The informal chat drew about 50 people to hear the elected officials and share their own thoughts.

“We were just hoping to give local people the chance to come out, meet us, talk to us about the issues that matter to them and answer questions or concerns they may have,” Sen. Anderson said. “I got asked about sanctuary cities, the funding bill, the budget and pensions and what we are going to do about them,” he said.

He and Rep. McCombie fielded nine questions and comments from participants. Mayor Thoms faced none. 

“But I was getting some questions from people on the side,” he said. Those included questions about sewer problems and compliments for building improvements in Rock Island. In his opening remarks, Mayor Thoms said the three officials possess a shared interest in regionalism, and a vow to make Illinois more friendly to business.

Marji Boeye, a Rock Island-Milan school board member, said she wasn’t surprised Mayor Thoms didn’t face more questions. The recent hot-button topics, she said, are state issues. She added it was inspiring to hear the officials’ shared enthusiasm for education and willingness to answer questions and clarify what’s going on at both levels.

“Both will support local schools and that will benefit everyone.”

Campaign spokesperson Rachel Bold said eight or nine monthly “Coffee and Conversation” events have been held with upcoming events planned in Moline and Andalusia. Those dates are yet to be announced.

She said a similar event held in Sterling-Rock Falls drew about 100 people.

Sen. Anderson, a Moline firefighter, came to Thursday’s event after working a 7:30 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. shift that included a few overnight calls.

“But I can’t tell you how important this is for me,” he said, referring to the Thursday gathering. “This is what public service is all about.”

Thursday’s event came a day after a state procurement reform bill cosponsored by Rep. McCombie was signed into law by Gov. Bruce Rauner. Senate Bill 8 is designed to increase the efficiency, savings and transparency of state purchases.

“This reform is an example of what can be accomplished when there is collaboration in Springfield,” Rep. McCombie said in a release statement. “The legislature must aggressively work together on common sense structural reforms to promote stability and revitalize our business community.”

On Thursday, she said said she has heard from coffee event participants that “people are frustrated with education funding and pensions.” Yet it’s important to remember, Sen. Anderson said, that school funding is for kids and pensions are for adults.

“So they need to be dealt with separately,” he said. “Chicago can be a great benefit, but has to stay on a balanced playing field.”

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