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EDITORIAL BOARD QUESTIONNAIRES

Daniel Biss

Democratic candidate for Governor

Daniel Biss

Daniel Biss

Democratic candidate for Governor

Running mate
Litesa E. Wallace
Education
BA in mathematics from Harvard University, Ph.D in mathematics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Occupation
Illinois State Senator for the 9th District
Home
Evanston

Responses to our questions

Illinois lost more residents than any other state in 2016, according to U.S. Census data, and the trend appears to be continuing for 2017. What do you believe is the No. 1 reason for the exodus? What do you believe a governor can do to reverse the pattern?

Bruce Rauner's budget crisis is the most recent and dramatic reason for the exodus. As social services, government employees, infrastructure construction, schools, and other individuals, projects, and institutions went without funding, many Illinoisans lost faith in their government's commitment to serving their needs.

The budget crisis hurt businesses as well, costing jobs as a result, as an unstable economic climate made long-term decision-making and investing unnecessarily risky. However, Bruce Rauner's failures are not the source of Illinoisans' lack of faith in government, which has built up over decades of mismanagement and poor decisions based in tired machine politics.

Both Democratic and Republican administrations and legislatures have lurched from crisis to crisis rather than balancing the budget, and the past three years have been the last straw for thousands of people who have left the state. To remedy the failures of the past three years as well as the failures of the previous thirty, we need to pass a balanced and sustainable budget to fully fund our priorities, every year.

A budget should fully and fairly fund our public education system, restore support for social services and other government programs that Bruce Rauner dismantled, invest in infrastructure, and support these policies through taxes that do not disproportionately burden middle-class and working families. When we create a balanced budget that provides the stability Illinois families and businesses need, they will stay in this state for generations to come.

If elected, what specific policy changes would you enact to improve the economic climate of Illinois? Please outline your position on the use of tax incentives and give-backs to attract businesses to Illinois? Do you support the expansion of existing taxes (sales, income, gasoline) or the enactment of new taxes to increase state revenue?

I believe that the best way to improve the economic climate of Illinois and to build a state that works for middle-class and working families is to consistently pass balanced budgets that fund all of our key priorities. Businesses will want to come to Illinois because of our educated workforce, predictable state policies, and diverse economic base. However, given Illinois' current business climate, businesses are asking for tax incentives and give-backs before making their decisions. I am generally wary of these special deals, especially because our regressive tax structure means that middle-class and working families will foot the bill. If I were to support such a deal, I would need to ensure we're not overpaying for too few low-paying jobs, create rules about where and how the business invests and hires to ensure benefits for low-income communities and communities of color, and institute a clawback mechanism to guarantee that if they don't deliver on their promises, we won't be expected to deliver on ours.

On taxation policy, I would modify the way our state collects income tax by getting rid of the absurd flat tax provision of our constitution to allow for a progressive income tax. I would also create a state-level financial transaction tax and close the federal carried interest loophole in Illinois. I'm open to a broad conversation about revenue, including rates of existing taxes, but will fight for new progressive revenue sources and carefully analyze any proposed changes to existing taxes to ensure that we don't increase the overall burden on middle-class and working families who can't afford it.

Where do you stand on a graduated income tax?

I believe that we must enact a graduated income tax in Illinois. Our current tax system lets the wealthy off the hook while asking middle-class and working families to pay more, and is a poor fit for the modern economy, which has seen almost all income growth go to the very top. Illinois is one of only a few states in the nation with a flat income tax and while opponents of the change argue that it would harm our competitiveness, most of our neighboring states already have progressive tax structures and have seen economic growth while also raising revenue to fund key programs.

The next governor will face significant challenges balancing the state budget. If the legislature sends an unbalanced budget, what will you do? If the budget requires cutting, where would you cut? Please be specific.

I will not sign an unbalanced budget. If the legislature sends me one, I will assess it to see whether it can be brought into balance in ways that preserve our priorities and meet the responsibilities of state government, and if this is impossible then I will veto it in full and resume negotiations.

As a general rule, I believe that the right way to cut costs is by making government more efficient rather than by thoughtlessly slashing line items, a strategy which disproportionately harms vulnerable communities without solving underlying budgetary issues. To make government more efficient and balance the budget at the same time, we should look for ways to consolidate duplicative and overly complex systems. For example, Illinois has hundreds of separate pension systems, more than any other state but Pennsylvania. With fewer systems, we could save money while providing better investment returns and rooting out corruption.

Another way to improve efficiency is to consolidate and dissolve units of local government. In 2014, I passed a law that allowed the City of Evanston to dissolve Evanston Township after a referendum from Evanston voters. This change made government more efficient, cutting overall costs and saving taxpayers money. I would also reduce spending by improving state policies for long term care through my LIFE Plan.

By creating a system of universal long term care in which families can apply a flexible credit towards in-home care provided by a caregiver or family member, an adult day care center, or other community-based program rather than only providing support for nursing homes, we can cut spending and ensure Illinoisans get care tailored to their needs.

Can Illinois balance its budget without RAISING taxes?

While our state could certainly slash vital programs, not raise taxes, and call the budget balanced, our families deserve better. If we're going to pass a budget that fully funds schools, services, infrastructure, and other needs, it is possible to balance spending without raising taxes for middle-class and working families, as long as we build a fair tax system in which corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share. Balancing our budget isn't just about raising and cutting taxes; it's about designing a more equitable system. If we still need to cut spending after raising revenue from progressive sources, it is imperative that we find ways to increase efficiency and streamline government programs rather than hastily cutting programs and services.

What do you propose as a solution to the state's $130 billion unfunded pension liability?

It is important that we honor the commitments we've made to Illinois workers and retirees who are relying on their pensions so they can age with dignity and security. To break this promise would be a mistake and a violation of the Illinois Constitution. Our unfunded pension liability is a result of our state's failure to pay into the pension system over the course of generations, and the first step to solving the problem is to begin making the actuarially responsible payments in full now. This will require implementing long-term progressive revenue streams such as a progressive income tax. We must also look to examples set by other states with systems that are more efficient, less costly, and less corrupt. One clear distinction between pensions in Illinois and other states is the number of systems we maintain. While we have hundreds of separate systems for workers in different places and different industries, other states have a single system. Consolidating our systems into a single fund would make oversight more effective and and enable funds to achieve greater returns on investment through pooled resources. We could also maximize returns from state investments by instituting pension fund management fee transparency.

What if anything should state government do to address rising property taxes?

From high assessments to ineffective appeals, our broken property tax system exploits middle-class homeowners while lining the pockets of property tax lawyers and letting the wealthy and well-connected off the hook. We must create a more transparent system to eliminate corruption and special treatment and give ordinary homeowners a fair deal.

To address these problems, I introduced the HOME Act in the spring. The legislation would bring transparency to the opaque valuation process by requiring county assessors to make clear how they estimate and validate values and by requiring state oversight and reporting on local officials. It would also require assessors to modernize broken valuation systems which demand more from middle-class and working homeowners and less from the wealthy, and involve the Department of Revenue in performing statistical analyses to analyze fairness and equity.

Lastly, the HOME Act would subject property tax lawyers to pay-for-play rules to prevent conflicts of interest and limit contributions from property tax lawyers to assessors, candidates for assessor, and others in the appeals process to $750 per year.

These reforms would make our property tax system much fairer, but would not decrease our total property tax burden, which is far too high. Reducing the overall burden requires reducing our reliance on property tax revenue to fund neighborhood schools. This will require wholesale reform of our tax system, beginning with a constitutional amendment to enable a progressive income tax, and then of our school funding formula. The other significant input into our sky-high property tax burden is the proliferation of local governments — thousands more than in any other state which we must continue working to streamline.

Do you support or oppose banning elected officials from serving as property tax lawyers?

While an appealing prospect given histories of corruption at the county and state level, banning elected officials from serving as property tax lawyers is likely unconstitutional. However, even beyond legal concerns, this is a simplistic solution that misdiagnoses the issue. Our problems are deeper than any property tax lawyer — they stem from a broken, regressive, and outdated property tax system.

What changes, if any, should be applied to Cook County's property tax system?

Changes I proposed in the HOME Act would be useful in bringing fairness and transparency to Cook County's property tax system, and more effective than banning elected officials from serving as property tax lawyers. These reforms include requiring assessors to disclose how they're estimating and validating values, bringing state oversight and reporting to the activities of local officials, requiring assessors to modernize inequitable valuation systems, requiring statistical analysis from the Department of Revenue to assess fairness, and enacting pay-for-play rules and contribution limits for property tax lawyers.

Have you ever appealed property taxes on any property you own? If so, what was the outcome?

No, I have never appealed property taxes on any property I own. Our property tax appeals system is riddled with loopholes and secretive processes that line the pockets of the the wealthy and well-connected while middle-class families like mine pay the price. All too often, I see politicians and candidates, both Democrat and Republican, take advantage of the system for personal gain — and that's not right. I refuse to appeal my property taxes because I worry that I would get special treatment due to my role as a legislator. I refuse to take a tax break at the expense of other middle-class and working families.

Lawmakers passed, and Gov. Bruce Rauner signed, a school funding bill in 2017 that included a scholarship tax credit program, which offers a tax credit in exchange for scholarship donations to private schools. Do you support this program? If yes, how will you support its growth? If no, will you dismantle the program?

No, I do not support SB1947, and voted against it because of the scholarship tax credit program. No, I will not support the growth of this program and yes, will dismantle it as governor. Instead of finding ways to fund public schools in every neighborhood, Bruce Rauner delayed funding our schools for as long as possible and then took advantage of the crisis to insert this last-minute tax break for the ultra-rich. Middle-class public school parents like me are tired of footing the bill while the wealthy get more tax cuts.

What is your position on charter schools?

I support a moratorium on charter schools because I do not believe that we should open new charter schools while closing public schools, and because neighborhood public schools are crucial anchors of their communities. As for existing charter schools, we must shut them down if they don't meet performance standards and strongly support organizing drives for teachers to ensure that charter schools do not function as union-busting institutions.

Do you support an elected school board in Chicago? Please explain your answer.

Yes, I support an elected school board in Chicago and was a co-sponsor of the most recent bill to create this policy. It is long-past time to bring democracy to the Chicago Public School district by giving parents and other stakeholders a say in how their tax dollars are spent and how their schools are run. As a parent of two children in Evanston public schools, I've seen firsthand how our elected school board can be held accountable to the needs of parents and students, make informed decisions about school policy, and bring an increased sense of political empowerment in our community at large.

Tell us about your family.

My wife and I live in Evanston with our two kids, who attend their local public school. Karin is a former Peace Corps volunteer and historian who studies communist Romania and has a passionate interest in government, politics, and service. Elliot is in 4th grade and has an intense love for fantasy novels, while Theodore is in 2nd grade and needs to figure out how everything works. The only thing I don't like about campaigning is the time away from them.

Tell us something about yourself that would surprise us.

I met the love of my life at the baggage claim at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on April Fools' Day in 2005. I'm not sold on Texas's economic policies, but it is the best state in the nation for first dates.

Give us an example of a time you worked across the aisle or against your party on an issue.

I've passed a number of bills tackling privacy issues arising in our rapidly-changing 21st century economy. To pass these reforms, I've collaborated with Republican legislators who shared my concerns regarding the security of private data, personal information, and intellectual property and agreed that our state must proactively address these emerging issues. By building a bipartisan coalition and working with issue experts such as the ACLU, we were able to pass laws requiring warrants for police to access GPS or cell phone data, use drones for surveillance, and more.

Where have you shown independence from your party?

I have shown independence from the Democratic Party by aggressively trying to change policies and practices that are harmful to Illinois families and by pursuing meaningful legislative reform, even when it means taking on entrenched leaders and systems within my own party. For example, I have spoken out forcefully about corruption within our property tax assessment and appeals processes and introduced the HOME Act to build a more transparent system that serves middle-class and working families instead of lining the pockets of wealthy homeowners and property tax lawyers.

I have also been a vocal critic of Mike Madigan and his political machine, proposing several reforms to build a party that is responsive to voters and running several campaigns, including this gubernatorial campaign, despite his opposition. Reforms I've proposed include supporting a legislative redistricting process run by an independent commission, introducing legislation to impose term limits for leadership positions such as Speaker of the House, and proposing a grassroots process to elect the Democratic Party chair.

Candidates for Governor

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