SPRINGFIELD - Members of the 93rd General Assembly took the oath of office Wednesday, with a $3 billion shadow looming over the traditional ceremony.
?I am looking forward to beginning our work on the serious problems that are facing our state,? said new state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana. ?The next two years will be very important as we look for permanent solutions to our continuing budget problems.?
As freshmen in the General Assembly, Jakobsson and state Reps. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, and Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, are busy setting up their offices, forming advisory committees, learning their way around and getting names and faces straight, all the while girding up for the massive task of fixing the budget deficit.
?It's very exciting, obviously,? Rose said. ?But as we sit here and we listen to speeches and we listen to Speaker (Michael) Madigan (D-Chicago) today talking about a $2.5 billion to $3 billion budget deficit, you know, it's time to get down to business. Obviously, as a body, our whole goal and focus has to be solving the state's fiscal crisis, and that's the bottom line.?
Rose has a slight advantage over the others, having worked as a staffer in the General Assembly for a year after he graduated from the University of Illinois, but all three new House members from East Central Illinois attended a special freshmen orientation session several weeks ago to get familiar with the basics.
State Sens. Rick Winkel, R-Champaign, Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, and Dan Rutherford, R-Chenoa, will have an even easier time getting acclimated, as each has already served in the General Assembly as a member of the House.
Also Wednesday, East Central Illinois' most senior state lawmaker, state Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, was appointed by House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, to serve as his chief deputy minority leader in the House, and will have a key role in setting budget and other legislative priorities for the House Republicans.
?I thank Leader Cross for appointing me to my new position,? he said. ?It will require more hours and obviously much more work. But I am anxious to get started and make a contribution to the people of this state.?
Black said his focus this spring will be relieving the tax burden on families and reducing the high cost of prescription drugs for seniors.
Jakobsson said prescription drugs were a focus of her campaign, and she was enthusiastic about Madigan's call Wednesday for a summit to address the issue.
Jakobsson said the House and Senate members from both parties have met a couple of times in East Central Illinois before Wednesday's inauguration.
?I think we will be able to work together to represent the area,? she said.
Having a common priority, the University of Illinois, will help forge those bonds, Rose said.
?I think that Naomi and I will be able to work together for the good of East Central Illinois,? he said.
?Obviously the University of Illinois is extremely important, and the health of that institution is extremely important. On higher education as a whole we are going to have to work with her, and I think it will be a benefit to the university to have her here. Obviously the speaker will be looking to protect his Democratic freshmen, and she's one of those, so I think that will be a benefit to the university.?
Having an area Democrat in office also will be important because the party now controls the House and the Senate, and next week will take the governor's office as well.
Jakobsson won her seat in the new Champaign-Urbana district in a contest against former state Rep. Tom Berns, R-Urbana, a race that was the most expensive one in the state last year.
Berns was hospitalized after a very mild stroke on Monday night, the eve of his final day in office.
He was released from Memorial Medical Center in Springfield on Wednesday and is back at home.
A full recovery is expected.