CRYSTAL LAKE – Illinois needs a middle-class governor – someone who understands what it’s like to struggle day-to-day in the only state without a budget, living paycheck to paycheck.
That’s the message of Democratic candidate Daniel Biss, a former math professor who reported income of less than $35,000 last year.
The 40-year-old Evanston legislator met with the Northwest Herald editorial board for more than 40 minutes Friday to talk about property taxes, consolidation and the need for a state leader that isn’t a billionaire.
“We have a system that has been run by the very wealthy for the very wealthy,” Biss said, “or people who are born with access to money or connections wind up doing better and better and the rest of us struggle more and more.”
Biss has gained support in recent weeks campaigning as a progressive who’s something the other top candidates are not: part of the middle class.
In TV ads filmed in his family’s modest home, he talks about sending his kids to public school and living on a budget. In another ad, he links wealthy Democratic rivals J.B. Pritzker and Chris Kennedy to two Republicans, Gov. Bruce Rauner and President Donald Trump, calling them all “rich guys” who’ve avoided taxes.
“Our property taxes in Illinois are insane,” Biss said, offering two solutions. “You have to lower aggregate property tax burden significantly,” Biss said. “And number two: you have to fix the way in which property taxes are assessed.”
The state can lower the aggregate property tax burden by fixing the school funding system in Illinois, Biss said.
“Our school funding system is more reliant on property tax than any other state in the union,” Biss said. “If we had a normal school-funding system where the state did its part, we would allow our school districts to have far lower property taxes.”
Consolidation of local governments would also lower property taxes, Biss said. The legislator pointed to Evanston Township, which shares its exact boundaries with the city of Evanston.
Legislators allowed voters to hold a referendum to eliminate it, which they did in 2014. It was only the third time in state history, and the first time in 82 years, that voters eliminated a township.
Several recent polls have shown Biss surpassing Kennedy, the son of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy, and gaining ground on Pritzker. The billionaire heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune and perceived front-runner has the support of many Democratic leaders in the March 20 primary – partly because he has the money to take on Rauner.
“It’s time for a middle-class governor. I think it’s time for someone who actually understands the challenges faced by – not 20 or 50 – but 80 or more percent of Illinois families. Someone who sat with their spouse and struggled through the question of, ‘Wait a second, how are we going to make sure our kid has access to health care?’” Biss said. “Someone who pays more than 10 percent of their income in property tax. Someone who’s got a 9-year-old and a 7-year-old and says, ‘Uh oh, a decade from now we might have a college student. How in God’s name are we going to afford that?’”
Three other candidates are seeking the Democratic nomination: educator Bob Daiber, activist Tio Hardiman and physician Robert Marshall. Rauner faces state Rep. Jeanne Ives in the GOP primary on March 20.
– The Associated Press contributed to this report.