Senator Daniel Biss: Takeaways from President Obama’s speech

0210R409 rWednesday, on the ninth anniversary of his campaign announcement outside the Old State Capitol in Springfield, President Obama delivered an address to a joint session of the Illinois General Assembly.

It was a historic event, and an exciting one to witness in person — an excitement magnified by the president's beautiful speech.

After seven years of a presidency marked by economic and geopolitical turmoil, intense partisan fighting and a striking record of accomplishment, President Obama returned to the themes that initially made him such a bright star on the national scene: he spoke about the relationship between a functional legislative process, a healthy political process and a sustainable democracy.

President Obama paid special attention to the questions of polarization, compromise, progress and core values. He stressed that in a democracy like ours, everyone needs to be willing to compromise if we want our system to survive, and he repeated several times that compromising to find common ground and move forward is not the same as selling out core values.

In other words, the president gave a speech that landed like a thunderbolt on the scorched earth of our 2016 Capitol.

I don't think a participant in today's Illinois state government today could listen to such a speech in good faith without engaging in some pretty serious self-examination. I've tried to do this, and I hope and suspect I'm not alone.

One thing I realize as I look at the last year through this lens is that I've become much angrier. Life in the legislature before 2015 was no picnic, and I was sometimes frustrated, disappointed or upset, but I was almost never angry. In this new world, that's changed. I find myself angry at Gov. Rauner, angry at his agenda and angry about what's being done to our state.

Every now and then my 7-year-old son asks me if I like the governor. I always explain that while I don't really know him well, I've liked him just fine the few times we've met — but that I don't like his ideas very much. If I'm going to be totally honest with myself, I should admit that my inner thoughts don't always live up to those words.

Anger is not a useful place from which to compromise. I'm going to try to do a better job of setting an example for my children. As much as I may disagree with a policy proposal, I need to keep that disagreement focused on the idea, not the person.

I think that if all of us in Springfield endeavor to do this, it will help us move forward. But that isn't enough. We also need to restore the crucial ingredient that's so painfully lacking right now: trust. At this moment, the various parties don't trust one another, and we don't trust one another's motives, either.

This is where President Obama's point about the difference between compromising and selling out is so important. Gov. Rauner and I truly do have differences of core values. I believe very deeply that the things he most wants to accomplish would be destructive to our society — and, it seems, most of my colleagues in the General Assembly agree with me. That means we're not about to reach an agreement on these questions, and therefore they're not the most fruitful area to try to work on first.

But I have good news: there are lots of other important issues facing state government. Many of them are more amenable to agreement, and many of those agreements would require genuine compromise from all sides.

The list of such issues begins, of course, with the need to pass a balanced budget. Everyone should be willing to sit down and negotiate a balanced budget agreement, immediately and without preconditions. There surely couldn't be a better trust-building exercise than that.

The opportunities don't end there, though. Gov. Rauner has laid out a sprawling, ambitious agenda. Democrats have signaled an openness to certain elements of it, even voting for a variety of related bills. The governor has rejected those bills as inadequate. He's entitled to that view, but he should make a counteroffer to keep the negotiation going.

Democrats have important reform ideas as well, such as repealing our bizarre constitutional provision that mandates a flat tax, changing our school funding formula and enacting automatic voter registration (as endorsed by the president in his speech). Gov. Rauner should view those proposals as further opportunities for compromise — after all, a healthy negotiation involves not only taking, but also giving.

Some will view this essay as a call for selling out. Perhaps some from my party will accuse me of selling out. Certainly others will suggest that by asking that we begin with the issues where agreement is most accessible, I am telling Gov. Rauner to sell out his values. After all, they might say, you can't shake up Springfield if you're focused on picking issues where you agree with the Democratic legislature.

To those voices, let me echo President Obama in quoting Adlai Stevenson's beautiful observation that “patriotism is not a short, frenzied outburst of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.” Our democracy has many extraordinary features, but susceptibility to rapid radical change is not among them. (Indeed, this is itself an extraordinary and crucial feature of our democracy!)

Our state is crumbling around us. It needs our help. Let's spend this February finding a single small thing we can agree on, and then accomplish it quickly. We can do more in March, and yet more in April. And who knows? Maybe by the end of 2018 we'll all be surprised at how much good we've done — together, collaboratively.

Biss: Work must continue on state budget negotiations

biss 120715EVANSTON — State Sen. Daniel Biss issued the following statement regarding Monday’s Senate vote to release $3.1 billion, including local pass-through money, that has been held up by the budget impasse in Springfield.

“This is an important step in addressing some of the local consequences of Illinois’ prolonged budget stalemate, but our work is not finished,” Biss said. “Public universities and community colleges are struggling because they have not received state funding. Likewise, vital services are on hold for rape victims, the homeless, autistic children, at-risk youth, the poor and people in need of health care because of the impasse.”

The legislation – Senate Bill 2039 – now goes to Gov. Bruce Rauner for his signature.

Critical funding for winter road maintenance, domestic violence shelter programs and local shares of video gaming and motor fuel tax revenue are part of the package. Also included are:

•    $1 billion to the Lottery for prizes.
•    $582.5 million to IDOT for local governments share of motor fuel gas tax revenues.
•    $43 million to the Community College Board for career and technical education activities.
•    $45 million to the Department of Revenue so local governments can receive their share of video gaming proceeds.
•    $3.1 million to the Illinois Math and Science Academy.
•    $31 million to IDOT to purchase road salt.
•    $2.5 million for breast cancer services and research.
•    $28 million for nursing home licensing and inspections.
•    $165 million for home heating bill assistance.
•    $77 million for 911-related costs.
•    $3.1 million to the Illinois Department of Public Health for the Tobacco Quitline.

Biss noted that Gov. Bruce Rauner is scheduled to deliver a budget address for the state in February, yet hasn’t delivered a budget for the state for the current fiscal year yet.

“We must come together, approve a comprehensive budget for the current fiscal year and set aside the differences that are preventing state leaders from having a robust budget negotiation,” Biss said.

Biss Statement on Leaders' Budget Meeting

biss snapSPRINGFIELD — Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) issued the following statement about Tuesday's scheduled budget meeting between Illinois' legislative leaders and Gov. Bruce Rauner:

"For the first time in more than six months, Gov. Bruce Rauner will convene a meeting with Illinois’ four legislative leaders on Tuesday.

It's easy to be cynical about such a meeting — painfully easy, in fact. But as we enter the sixth month of the fiscal year with no budget in sight, those of us who are focused on the devastating human consequences of this situation need to hold on to whatever hope we can find.

This prolonged situation has already inflicted untold harm by destroying the state’s vital human services network, by worsening its already bleak financial picture and by marring its fiscal reputation so severely that it will take years to recover.

The damage is evidenced each time a human services provider closes its doors, each time a teenager has nowhere to go to be safe after school and each time a family is turned away for counseling services.

All of this is happening because Gov. Rauner has steadfastly refused to negotiate about the budget until the General Assembly capitulates to his demands to enact a radical anti-worker agenda. The fact of the matter is that this agenda can't pass because a majority of legislators simply don't think support his ideas. That's how democracy works — and Gov. Rauner will only get his way by convincing those of us who disagree with his ideas to change our minds, not by taking innocent hostages.

It’s time for Gov. Rauner to end the stalemate and start negotiating with the state’s elected lawmakers. Illinois needs a budget now. Everything else, including the governor’s anti-worker agenda, must wait."

Biss: Munger, Rauner repeating Illinois' most devastating mistakes

biss snapSPRINGFIELD — In response to the recent announcement from the comptroller’s office that Illinois will skip its November pension payments, Senator Daniel Biss (D – Evanston) has issued the following statement:

The budget impasse continues to wreak havoc on the people of Illinois, and the longer we go without a resolution, the more pain that will be felt. With each day comes more news about Illinoisans unable to get basic services, devastating nonprofit closures and additional mistakes that will take far longer to remedy than they take to create.

Indeed, just this week, Comptroller Leslie Munger announced that she will not make the state's November pension payment, a practice that has indisputably led to the current condition of our state pension systems.

Skipping this payment is simply repeating the biggest mistake of our past, and it puts our state's fiscal stability at even greater risk. We know what happens when we short our pension systems, and credit agencies do, too.

For all the talk about getting rid of “business as usual” in Springfield, this certainly feels like more of the same.

Senator Daniel Biss


9th Senate District

Years served: 2011 - 2012 (House); 2013 - 2018 (Senate)

Committee assignments: Education; Environment and Conservation; Executive Appointments; Human Services; Labor (Chairperson); Revenue.

Biography: Full-time legislator; former University of Chicago math professor; doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and undergraduate degree from Harvard University. Served one term in the House before his election to the Senate. Resides in Evanston with his wife, Karin, and their children, Elliot and Theodore. Co-chair of a bipartisan pensions working group in the House and chair of the Digital Divide Elimination Advisory Committee.