Saturday 23rd September 2017

Wake up Ill. Legislaters/Changing the Name of a policy won’t make it good

Editors note:

The Democrats have controlled Illinois for far too long and Chicago over 50 years. Doing the same bad policy and changing the name to sound good results in the same failures that make Illinois the most croupt, taxed, and regulated State to live. No wonder business and people are leaving if they can.

Illinois Dems need own reform agenda — one that will work

The Illinois State Capitol is seen during sunset in Springfield.  (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

The Illinois State Capitol is seen during sunset in Springfield. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman)

It’s time for Democrats in Springfield to come out of our defensive crouch.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand how we got there. Shortly after he was inaugurated, Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed the “turnaround agenda” — his set of proposals for Illinois, which consisted mostly of extreme, controversial anti-union ideas.

These plans, which are based on the economic philosophy that in order to attract business you have to make it as cheap as possible to hire people, would drive down wages and harm the middle class. In other words, they violate core principles that form the backbone of the Democratic Party.

But even beyond that, they were simply confusing. Our state government has extreme problems — by some measures, we’re first in the nation in debt, and we’re definitely first in incarcerated governors. In that case, shouldn’t a search for solutions start with an identification of our truly extreme policy anomalies, rather than an assault on collective bargaining laws that we have in common with numerous other thriving states?

Yes, it should. Illinois needs a reform agenda, and that agenda has to begin with a list of our unusual policies that have caused severe problems. This list clearly isn’t going to come from Gov. Rauner, so Democrats must fill the void.

Formulating and enacting that piece of an agenda is necessary if we want to truly solve the fiscal and ethical problems that plague us. But we shouldn’t stop there.

Democrats have grown adept at criticizing Gov. Rauner’s anti-union policies and their negative impact on wages and working conditions, but we haven’t done as much to explain what we want to do instead. In order to do that, we have to be honest with ourselves about a completely different topic: the many extraordinary strengths of Illinois.

We’re a culturally vibrant and well-educated state. And not only are our people diverse — our economy is strikingly diverse, with a dynamic mix of opportunities other Midwestern states can only dream of. Our universities and research facilities are extraordinary, and, yes, we tend to have higher wages than our neighbors.

In other words, racing to the bottom in order to cater to companies that want to pay the lowest wages possible isn’t only harmful to Illinois workers — it represents an abandonment of the traditions that made Illinois great in the first place.

Our greatest successes have come from our participation in a high-skill high-wage economy, and our best shot at a thriving economic future comes from doubling down on this model, not turning away from it. Democrats should champion this vision for Illinois, and we need to advocate for a policy agenda that matches it.

This policy agenda has to be based on inclusive growth — economic success that benefits everyone. In other words, a high-skill high-wage economy doesn’t mean that a few well-educated engineers get rich by starting IT companies while everyone else is left behind. Yes, it certainly includes a highly innovative group of workers leading the way in high-tech industries, but there’s much more to it than that.

Robust investment in education (extending from early childhood through college) and infrastructure doesn’t just create economic opportunity; it also creates stable middle-class jobs. And once we’ve wisely abandoned the race to the bottom, we’re free to enact strong labor laws to lift up low wage workers.

I understand that at a time like this it can be hard to think years into the future. Illinois government has plunged into chaos. We have no budget. Social service providers and institutions of higher education have been pushed to the brink (and sometimes beyond). Democrats and our allies are fending off attacks the likes of which we’ve never seen before.

Fighting for what you believe in is inherently riskier than just saying no to the other guy. But that’s all the more reason to build a progressive reform agenda. We can’t just sit back and hope for the best, and we can’t count on someone else to do it for us.

In the coming months, I’ll be laying out some of my ideas on how to flesh out that agenda at medium.com/@danielbiss/. I don’t pretend to have all the answers, and I’m sure that as I keep on listening and learning my views will continue to adjust. But we have to start somewhere, and we have to start now.

Daniel Biss, a former mathematics professor, represents the 9th District in the Illinois Senate

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