By Mark D. DeBofsky
Senator Daniel Biss has been a member of the Illinois General Assembly for six years and has served as State Senator for the 9th District for four of those years. Throughout his terms in the General Assembly, Senator Biss’s commitment to what he believes the State of Illinois needs and the role he can play has remained constant.
Senator Biss has made it his top priority to work on fixing the economic and financial problems this state faces – without a budget, the State of Illinois is unable to provide the services it needs to offer to its citizens. He is working to fix a broken Springfield in a way that is fair and reasonable, but to do so, the political culture needs to change. Corporations and special interest groups have too much influence over politics – Senator Biss is working on building a movement to establish a political process “that people want and need, and that serves the people.”
The current political moment, which has produced tremendous fear and anger about President Trump, has created an opportunity for change in Illinois. “People are ready for something meaningful to organize around. We need to encourage resistance movements building around the state and partner with them to change politics in a productive way,” Biss said.
One issue that will undoubtedly motivate discussion is the need to protect women from reckless policy. If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, the decision that legalized abortion, such a ruling would automatically make abortions illegal in Illinois under existing state law. Currently pending before the General Assembly is a bill, HB 40, that would prevent such an occurrence. Senator Biss believes that HB 40 is a something to rally around and presents a “concrete opportunity to make good public policy.”
Senator Biss also recently introduced a bill requiring that a candidate for President of the United States not be allowed to appear on a ballot in Illinois without releasing his or her tax returns. This is another issue he believes creates a meaningful opportunity to organize for change. As Biss remarked, “Every step forward strengthens our ability to take substantive steps.”
Senator Biss also expressed tremendous concern about Illinois’ regressive income tax. The Illinois Constitution mandates a flat income tax, which Biss feels we need to replace with a fair tax code, because the current system has hamstrung budgeting.
On the pension issue, Senator Biss pointed out that Illinois’ pension debt is the worst in the country by wide margin. “We need to stop political grandstanding and be realistic about what the Illinois Supreme Court will uphold consistent with the state constitution,” he said. He criticized the Rauner administration for pushing draconian steps that are clearly unconstitutional and which delays taking constructive steps to fix problems
Senator Biss still wants to work with the Rauner administration, though. He believes that the governor and Democrats share many of the same goals and need to find common ground on the way to achieve what the citizens of Illinois need. However, Biss asks whether Governor Rauner places his priorities on achieving his political agenda over realizing his stated goals. He gave the example of Rauner’s desire to cut the cost of workers’ compensation for employers. Governor Rauner has tried to justify cutting benefits for injured workers by saying he wants to lower employers’ costs of doing business, but Biss points to premium revenues and rising profits by insurance companies as suggesting that the problem would be better addressed by lowering employers’ insurance rates.
Senator Biss views his job as “do[ing] his best to create opportunities to work together on shared goals,” but he worries that the Governor seems uninterested in working together and is focused more on finger-pointing. He added, though, “There is too much at stake to give up.”
Biss has not yet made up his mind about his own political future but believes the next governor needs to be someone who has “a positive economic vision for the State.” A Democrat cannot get elected solely by running a negative campaign against Bruce Rauner. In order to win, Biss believes it is necessary to “lay out a clear, inspiring economic vision and agenda to fix the budget and make those best able to pay to pay their share.” A successful candidate also needs to build a statewide movement to transform Illinois politics.
Senator Biss is confident that the politics in Illinois can change. Independent, progressive, ethical legislators such as Dawn Clark Netsch, Abner Mikva, and Adlai Stevenson III changed Illinois, and Daniel Biss believes “it can happen again if we put our minds to it.”