Illinois state senator talks fiscal issues, political background


Annabel Edwards/Daily Senior Staffer

State Sen. Daniel Biss speaks at the Buffett Center on Monday night. Biss spent the majority of the event answering students' questions and talking about the pension crisis, the process of running a political campaign and his beliefs on an individual's role in democracy.

Julian Gerez, Reporter

State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) spoke at Northwestern on Monday about his political background and Illinois fiscal issues.

The event, which brought about 15 people to the Roberta Buffett Center, was hosted by the Northwestern University Political Union. The senator, who has been at the forefront of efforts to reform Illinois public pensions, held a discussion about various budgetary issues.

“The poor fiscal condition of the state of Illinois obviously results in a bad bond rating,” he said. “The bad bond rating obviously results in higher borrowing costs, and higher borrowing costs obviously mean that we pay more to finance anything that requires borrowing.”

Biss said the higher borrowing costs are “massively frustrating” but the “numbers that are breaking the bank are the extra pension costs,” which were inherited from previous “short-sighted decision makers.”

Building a road in Illinois costs more than building a road in other states that have better credit ratings and lower interest rates. Consequently, any time there is a proposition to spend tax dollars, that proposition becomes less attractive for taxpayers, Biss said.

Biss, who represents Chicago’s northern suburbs including Evanston, grew up in Indiana, before attending Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, earning his undergraduate degree and his doctorate, respectively, in mathematics. He was a faculty member of the mathematics department at the University of Chicago prior to running for office. 

“It felt inadequate to me to hang out in the ivory tower and just solve math problems,” Biss said. “I wanted to somehow be involved in thinking about social policy.”

To start the talk, Biss spoke about his history as a politician.

He first ran for a seat as a state representative in 2008 but lost that election. He then won the next election in 2010. After his term ended in 2012, he ran to become a state senator, winning with more than 66 percent of the vote. Biss spoke about what he learned from these elections and the importance of focus and organization when running a campaign.

In a district with more than 50,000 voters, Biss said it was important to connect with the electorate.

“The most important thing it takes is discipline,” he said. “A campaign should be a detailed conversation with me and those 52,000 people about all important matters of public policy. But it’s not that; it’s basically a giant attempt to cut corners and achieve as close a facsimile of that.”

Weinberg junior Connor Tatooles, co-president of the Political Union, said Biss sparked an interesting discussion.

“Biss offers a unique perspective given his educational background,” Tatooles said. 

Weinberg senior Samuel Ide, a member of the group, said it was important for the group to host Biss.

“Illinois politics are such an interesting animal,” Ide said. “It’s really cool to have someone come from the state assembly to talk to us about Illinois issues as well as just what working in a state government is like.”

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