Daniel Biss, an Evanstonian who currently represents the 17th House District in the Illinois General Assembly, is the Democratic candidate for State Senate in the 9th District, from which Jeff Schoenberg will retire at the end of the term. He holds a Ph.D. in mathematics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and is a former math professor at the University of Chicago. As State Representative, he serves on many legislative committees.
Jobs: Mr. Biss has several suggestions to address the State’s high unemployment rate: increasing investment in growing small businesses and in public education, stabilizing the budget, simplifying the professional-regulation system and redesigning the tax code “around the principles of revenue adequacy, economic efficiency, and fairness.”
He sees a link between education and employment: “To the extent that we use fiscal policy to facilitate job growth, it should come in two areas: “investment in public education and in the transportation network. He also says the state should correct the misalignment of content between high schools and community colleges as well as between post-secondary institutions and the labor market. This should be done, he says, “so as to change the stunning situation wherein we face a terrible unemployment problem while many good jobs are going unfilled. “
Pensions: With an unfunded pension liability of about $83 billion, Mr. Biss says the state’s pension crisis is “the most prominent fiscal challenge facing our State today … If we avoid taking the difficult steps necessary to fix our pension system, the growing cost would consume so much of the State budget that we would be unable to fund any other sector of government, including human services, health care, infrastructure, public safety, education – and eventually – the salaries of the public employees in the pension systems.”
As a member of the General Assembly he wrote HB6149, which proposes a cash balance plan for new employees, and HB6150, which proposes a benefit buyout option for current employees. The “optimal solution,” he says “would include three components: (1) A series of benefit and/or employee contribution changes to make the employer obligation associated with the “Tier I employees” (those who entered the systems on or before Dec. 31, 2010) affordable; (2) A truly enforceable mechanism to ensure that the State actually pays what it’s supposed to pay; and (3) A cash balance plan for new employees so that risk is shared between employees and employers, opportunities for abuse are eliminated, and the retirement system has built-in portability that reflects contemporary labor market realities.”
He supports the proposed shift of the “normal” or annual cost of teachers’ retirement from the State to the local school districts but adds the shift should be phased in.
Taxes: Mr. Biss says the State income tax “should be graduated, our sales tax base should be broader with lower rates, and our property taxes should be … generally lower. The status quo manages to simultaneously fail spectacularly at both fairness and economic efficiency, which ought to be two of primary goals of any tax policy.
Education: Schools must prepare children to compete in a global economy and improve U. S. competitiveness worldwide, says Mr. Biss. He favors both public education and charter schools and does not support vouchers. He supports implementation of the common core standards and “content articulation” among the various academic and post-academic levels: K-8, high school, community colleges, universities and employers.
On education funding, Mr. Biss says the State’s school-funding system is “completely broken.” He believes the “foundation” or base level of State aid is too low and notes the 2012 budget was only 88 percent of the statutorily required amount.
The State “took a very significant step forward with the passage of Senate Bill 7, he says, which ties the promotion and retention of educators more closely to performance.”
He promises to “work tirelessly to ensure that our educational system is a model for the 21st century.”
Glen Farkas is the Republican candidate for State Senate in the 9th District. He is a resident of Glenview, owns Avista Wealth Management, which provides asset management services to individuals, companies and qualified retirement plans and offers insurance and risk-management services. He is running for State Senate in the 9th District. This is his first foray into seeking public office, and he said he will “be a citizen legislator and not a career politician.”
Jobs: Illinois’ dismal ranking (48th) in economic performance is a result of “poor leadership in Springfield and an unfriendly business and regulatory climate.” Mr. Farkas said the State should embrace the private sector, engage in serious recruiting efforts to bring more businesses to and retain them in Illinois. Without competitive tax and regulatory environments, he said, Illinois will “continually lose some of our best companies and brightest individuals to other more friendly states.”
Pensions: Mr. Farkas said the only way to “truly solve” the pension crisis is by a combination of benefit reductions, increases in retirement ages, freezing of the COLAs (cost-of-living adjustments)and increases in contributions by pension participants.
He said public safety and government employees should contribute more (work longer hours or contribute more toward their pensions and health benefits). He would end retiree health benefits for new hires, increase the retirement age and offer pension buyouts and voluntary benefit-reduction incentives.
He would freeze the (COLA) “at 0% for a minimum of three years for all public sector workers already in retirement.” Mr. Farkas would eliminate all pensions for new politicians and reduce benefits for current and retired lawmakers. He said the State should implement Defined Contribution Plans (401Ks) for all new employees.
He also supports shifting from the State to local school districts the “normal” or current costs for teachers in the Teachers Retirement System.
Taxes/Debt: The State of Illinois, Mr. Farkas said, does not respect the taxpayer. He sees many taxes as unhelpful to the State and its citizens. The property tax is the “most subjective and destructive for taxpayers,” and he would “immediately repeal” the 2011 rate increase in corporate income taxes. He said Illinois can eventually balance its budget without tax increases by becoming more business-friendly. He believes that taxpayers can “regain control from our local taxing authorities” by removing a property’s “value” from the property tax calculation and replacing it with a formula based on lot size, and further restricting the ability for local tax authorities to increase property taxes. “Government needs to live within their means and make tough choices every year, just like the private sector. … Forcing restraint on local tax bodies is the only way to regain control of our tax dollars and save our homes from confiscatory taxation.” Local taxing bodies, he said “seem to treat our homes/businesses as their personal ATM machines; extracting increasing sums despite decreasing property values and economic realities.”
Education: Mr. Farkas said that families with children in public schools benefit the most from the school system and thus “should ultimately pay more than other residents of the North Shore communities. While all residents benefit from a well-run school system, the burden to sustain the multitude of academic, athletic and artistic programs should ultimately fall on the users of the school programs.” He would also assess a school fee on each child in a public school. He favors competition “for all taxpayer dollars,” and believes that vouchers and charter schools will make public schools more competitive.
The Evanston RoundTable prepared the candidate profiles using information obtained from the candidates’ websites and from information provided by each candidate in response to a Chicago Tribune questionnaire. In the profiles, the RoundTable provides a short summary of the candidates’ views on selected topics, each of which is complex. For a fuller explanation of the candidates’ views and for their views on other topics, readers are encouraged to visit their websites.