CARBONDALE — Illinois State Sen. Daniel Biss, a Democrat who represents the Ninth District in Illinois, spent Thursday in Southern Illinois campaigning for governor.
“I think we can build a state government that works for all of Illinois,” Biss told the editorial board of The Southern Illinoisan.
Biss added that no part of the state has been more harmed by the failed policies of the current administration than Southern Illinois. In fact, Biss believes those policies have failed to work for the entire state, from his hometown of Evanston to the southern tip of Illinois.
To get into the race for governor, Biss will first have to defeat six other Democratic candidates in the primary, including J.B. Pritzker and Chris Kennedy. He believes the race is about the future of the Democratic Party, which has lost the presidency and the governors and state legislators across the country.
He believes the question in Illinois and for the party is whether to elect a billionaire with no experience, or a progressive with a record of boldness of policy.
Biss said Illinois is a state of unbelievable prosperity, but also is state with failed school funding and tax systems.
“The key question is who’s willing to fight all of that — income tax, property tax and school funding,” Biss said. “If we do it right, it will change the economic system in Illinois.”
Biss added that middle income families are hurting in Illinois.
“A few people are doing better and better, and the rest are left behind,” Biss said.
The cost of higher education, healthcare and retirement continue to get higher and higher, he said.
Biss said many of the people in their 30s in America today are doing worse than their parents were at the same age. “That’s the American dream teetering on the edge,” he said.
The real problem, according to Biss, is that it is impossible for people to work with dignity and raise their families with dignity.
State leaders need to restructure state finances and create a tax system that works in a modern economy, he said. Illinois has 628 different pension systems. Biss said other than Pennsylvania and Florida, no other state comes close to that number.
Biss used the police and firefighter pensions as an example. They each have separate pension systems in every municipality. Each system has a board that consists of five trustees, one retiree, two current employees and two appointed by the mayor. Each also has a financial consultant, investment consultant and training vendors.
“It’s an insane system that allows for corruption,” Biss said. “Ohio put all of its pensions into one system and saved massive amounts of money.”
He added that the system creates "silos of protection" for those involved. Biss said Illinios needs a governor who "knows where these bodies are buried" and is willing to take on those battles, and he believes he is that person.
Biss also wants to streamline state government. Illinois has more local governing bodies than any other state in the country with just under 7,000. He said he has fought for municipal consolidation.
He knows it is important to deal with Mike Madigan rather than make him an opponent, but that does not mean doing everything Madigan wants. Biss said he has learned through his years in the state legislature to successfully negotiate with Madigan.
“We have been on the opposite side of every major party battle,” Biss said.
He believes Madigan has been speaker too long and is too powerful. The first legislation Biss sponsored was to limit the term of the speaker of the house. If elected, he will try to enact term limits for legislative leaders and the governor. He is not in favor of term limits for rank and file legislators.
Biss also favors campaign reform, saying he may be biased because one of his primary opponents has spent $42 million dollars.
“This is scary. This is not OK. This is not the way a democracy is run. Are we going to have an election or are we going to have an auction?” Biss said.
Biss said the state has a role to play in Cairo. While the state has no jurisdiction over federal dollars, it can help by backing real public investment to put people back to work and ensure the money gets into the hands of the broader public.
He also would favor legalizing recreational marijuana, but added that he does not think it is “no big deal.” From a public health point of view, the consequences of alcohol abuse are devastating, he said. He said marijuana is much less dangerous, but it has to be regulated and taxed appropriately.
“The state is really in trouble. It is in a worse financial condition than any other state government and worse than it has ever been,” Biss said. “This state is also a prosperous state, with the fifth-largest economy.”
While Chicago is doing well, much of the rest of the state is suffering, according to Biss. Fixing the problem does not take a complete transformation, just a change in trajectory.
For more information about the Biss platform, visit www.danielbiss.com.