State Sen. Daniel Biss: ‘Our State Is Not Working For Most People’

Daniel Biss
State Sen. Daniel Biss visits the WBEZ studios on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. Jason Marck/WBEZ
Daniel Biss
State Sen. Daniel Biss visits the WBEZ studios on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018. Jason Marck/WBEZ

State Sen. Daniel Biss: ‘Our State Is Not Working For Most People’

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Democratic state Sen. Daniel Biss wants to be Illinois’ next “middle-class governor.”

Biss, who said Thursday on Morning Shift that he would be “on the side of ordinary families,” is one of seven Democratic candidates running in the March 20 primary looking to unseat Gov. Bruce Rauner in November.

“Our state is not working for most people,” Biss said. “Our state has seen an incredible concentration of wealth in very few hands, and that concentration of wealth has come with incredible power, and the rest of us have fallen further and further behind.”

Biss also answered questions from the public on issues ranging from legalizing marijuana to his proposed solutions to some of the state’s biggest problems. Here are some interview highlights.

On legalizing marijuana

Daniel Biss: I’m all for it. Throughout my time in the legislature, I was fighting to support the legalization of medicinal marijuana, and that’s a fight that we won, but I’ve also been supporting legalization of recreational marijuana. The most important reason is it’s a justice question: Our marijuana laws are fundamentally unequally applied. They’re applied in different ways in black and brown communities than in white communities. And that’s just wrong.

The way out of this is to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, regulate it appropriately, tax it appropriately, but stop locking up black and brown people.

On property taxes

Biss: The property tax system is a scandal, and the only reason that they’re able to get away with it is because it’s not transparent. For example, you are not allowed to find out how they calculated the assessment of your property.

I have a bill called the Home Act. It’s the most comprehensive property tax reform bill that’s been proposed. It has full transparency and more, like ethics restrictions around property tax appeal attorneys making contributions to assessment entities. And it modernizes the system, because right now, they’re using a system that is antiquated that they know is unfair, that they know is punishing certain people to help others, and yet they continue doing it.

On public and charter schools

Biss: We send our second- and fourth-graders to our neighborhood public school. They’re able to walk to school in the morning to a school that is the anchor of the neighborhood. And yet, many children in many zip codes in Illinois don’t have that opportunity.

The right focus on education policy is to create universal access to high quality, properly funded neighborhood public schools. If you want to do that, you’ve got to completely change our school funding system, which is still the most unjust in the country, the most property tax reliant in the country.

This is not an issue that you can just do one step at a time. There’s a comprehensive set of changes we have to make. We have to amend the constitution to allow for progressive income tax like almost all of our neighbors have, use that to bring in adequate income so the state is funding schools in every zip code adequately, and then, we have to have a new formula and bring down property taxes significantly while fixing our broke and unfair property tax system.

On segregation and access

Biss: We have a city with unbelievable segregation and with massive gentrification problems that exacerbate the gentrification. And therefore, there are neighborhoods with incredible opportunity and neighborhoods with lack of opportunity. There are two solutions that interlock to address this: one is affordable housing, and one is transportation.

We have a real problem with affordable housing in Illinois. I’ve been fighting to repeal the state’s rent control ban so that we can have the city of Chicago, for example, enact rent policies that work for communities to stop the gentrification. We need to have stronger affordable housing policies and better enforcement, with fewer loopholes.

But then, we need to couple that with strong transportation policies. It’s not a coincidence that there are some neighborhoods that are hard to get to in Chicago — or some that are hard to get between — by public transportation. That’s about the history of racism.

And I also think that mass transit has a crucial place, not just in a giant city like Chicago, but elsewhere. In mid-sized towns, if you invest in bus service, you change lives.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire segment.

Editor’s note: Chicago Public Media receives philanthropic support from The Pritzker Foundation. J.B. Pritzker, who is campaigning for governor in the Democratic Primary, is not involved with the foundation and does not contribute to it.