News Local/State

State Sen. Daniel Biss Wants The Big Office At The Capitol

Illinois State Senator Daniel Biss

Illinois Sen. Daniel Biss, D-Skokie, speaks to lawmakers while on the Senate floor in March, 2016, in Springfield, Ill. Sen. Biss is running for Illinois governor in 2018. Seth Perlman/AP

So far five Democrats are looking to run against Gov. Bruce Rauner in the November 2018 election. (Yes, more than a year away.) WBEZ's Morning Shift is interviewing all of the Democratic candidates running for governor: Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar, businessman Chris Kennedy, billionaire J.B. Pritzker, Madison County school superintendent Bob Daiber, and State Sen. Daniel Biss. 

Biss joined Morning Shift on Monday after the end of the Illinois legislature’s spring session, which again saw lawmakers unable to approve a budget. Biss talked about his approach to raising taxes, his relationship with House Speaker Michael Madigan, and more. Here are some interview highlights.

On raising taxes

State Sen. Daniel Biss: Our property taxes shouldn’t be frozen. They should be lower. We need to reform our taxes so that millionaires and billionaires who’ve been the beneficiaries of generations of economic growth and are not paying their share. I’ve been leading the fight for that change. 

Unfortunately, Gov. Rauner doesn’t want to tax millionaires and billionaires, and you can probably guess why. Instead, he wants to finance a property tax freeze by cutting wages for teachers, municipal employees and people who do projects for local government. It’s going to result in a lower quality of education and public services and a much harder time for people to find their way into the middle class. 

So the question Gov. Rauner and I disagree on is not, “Are property taxes too high?” The question is, “Who ought to bear the brunt of the change?” My answer is the richest residents who have not been paying their share and should finally pay their share. His answer is let’s take it out on teachers.

Illinois is one of only four states in the union whose constitution says we may not ask a person who makes $20 million a year — or $188 million a year like our governor — to pay a higher rate than someone making $20,000 a year. It’s wrong, it’s immoral, it’s unusual, and it’s hampered our ability to properly fund government. If we want to truly transform our state in a durable, sustainable way, we a have to fix the constitution and allow ourselves to finally ask millionaires and billionaires to pay their share.

On House Speaker Michael Madigan

Biss: When I say that Speaker Madigan has been in his post too long and that he’s too powerful and that he’s holding our state and the Democratic party back in a room full of Democratic activists, I often get more applause than not. I think that if we’re going to solve the state’s critical problems that have been brewing for decades, we have to name them, we have to understand them and pledge to tell the difficult truths that are necessary to allow us to identify the problem and find the solution. It’s a tough thing to say during a Democratic primary, but I think being willing to do it gives me the credibility with voters that they know they can trust me and hear from me an honest diagnosis — even if it’s difficult. 

On problems throughout the state

Biss: What I learned is that there are the same fundamental anxieties in every corner of the state. There are parts of the state in every region — in Cook County, Chicago and the furthest downstate tip — where schools are inadequately funded and that means opportunity isn’t what it ought to be. Where the manufacturing plant has left and the schools have shut down. And economic opportunity has left because the state has turned its back on regions. What I tell people is that we need to invest everywhere because we believe in people everywhere and see potential everywhere. And by the way, I’m here to listen and to learn. I’m not going to stop coming after the election because I’m going to run a government that sees the potential everywhere and invests everywhere to unlock that potential. 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click here to listen to the entire interview.