Brian Mackey

State of the State/ Reporter / Anchor

Read Brian's "State of the State" blog.

Brian Mackey covers state government and politics for Illinois Issues magazine, WUIS and a dozen other public radio stations across Illinois. He was previously A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. He can be reached at (217) 206-6412.

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Statehouse
4:44 pm
Tue September 23, 2014

Chicago Mayor: Lower Penalties For Drugs

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is seen in this file photo.
Credit cityofchicago.org

  Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday called on state lawmakers to reduce penalties for drug possession.

  Two years ago, Chicago began allowing its police to issue tickets for possessing small amounts of pot, rather than immediately making an arrest.

Emanuel says the change is working: "We have seen about 4,100 fewer arrests in that area."

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Election 2014
3:02 pm
Thu September 18, 2014

Can A Governor Really Create Jobs?

Gov. Pat Quinn
Credit Quinn campaign

This story first appeared as Illinois Issues' State of the State column in the September 2014 edition of the magazine.

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Election 2014
10:16 am
Thu September 11, 2014

Rauner Trying To Soften Image On Pensions

Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner is seen in this August 2013 file photo.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Republican candidate Bruce Rauner continues trying to soften his image when it comes to government employees. This comes after he won the nomination in part by relentlessly attacking public employee unions.

Rauner has called for all current state employees to have their pensions frozen and be put into 401(k)-style retirement plans. Many consider that even more harsh than the pension reductions Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law last year.

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Election 2014
8:47 pm
Wed September 10, 2014

N.J. Gov. Christie Stumps For Rauner In Springfield

Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, center, and Illinois gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner attended two closed-door fundraisers in Springfield Wednesday.

Republicans across America have high hopes for Bruce Rauner's campaign to be the next governor of Illinois. Appearing with him Wednesday in Springfield was New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  

Christie is head of the Republican Governors Association, which last week gave Rauner another $2 million. That brings its total support for the wealthy candidate to $6 million.

Christie headlined a pair of fundraisers with Rauner in Springfield, then stopped at Brickhouse, a downtown restaurant and bar, to pose for pictures with supporters.

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Illinois Issues
12:00 am
Mon September 1, 2014

Restorative Justice: Racial Bias in Expulsions & Suspensions Spur a New Look at School Discipline

This summer, Senn High School students Delvon Woods, left, and Dewayne Thomas participated in a restorative justice training program at Alternatives, a youth center in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. “Instead of getting suspended or kicked out of class for an altercation, you would take it to restorative justice,” Woods says.
Credit WUIS/Illinois Issues

  If a student happens to have been born black, he’s three times more likely to be suspended or expelled than his white classmates. That statistic comes from the U.S. Department of Education, and it’s often repeated by people who favor changing the way students are disciplined. But as with all averages, it obscures the rough edges that become apparent only when looking more closely at the numbers, and Illinois has some of the roughest edges around.

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Illinois Issues
12:00 am
Mon September 1, 2014

State of the State: Can a Governor Really Create Jobs?

Brian Mackey
Credit mattpenning.com 2011 / WUIS/Illinois Issues

An outsider to Illinois politics could be forgiven for thinking Gov. Pat Quinn and Bruce Rauner are running for the position of job creator in chief. Quinn can’t say enough about “jobs” and how his policies are creating more of them. Rauner, the GOP challenger, naturally contends that Quinn is Illinois’ greatest impediment to job creation — and that his platform is more likely to breathe new life into the state’s ailing economy.

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Education Desk
6:08 am
Thu August 28, 2014

Illinois Schools In Pension Limbo

Credit WFIU/flickr

It’s expected to be some time before the courts decide whether Illinois can trim retirement benefits for public school teachers, university workers, and state employees. But the uncertainty continues to affect the credit outlook of schools and community colleges across the state.  

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Statehouse
6:49 pm
Thu July 31, 2014

At Historic Sites, Budget Cuts Could Lead To Closures

The law office where Abe Lincoln had his practice is among the sites that could have reduced hours because of state budget cuts.
Credit springfield-il-us.org

A budget cut is leading to a reduction in hours at many state historic sites. Officials say without more money, some sites could close completely.

This spring, lawmakers passed what they called a largely flat budget. One of the few areas of government to experience a significant funding cut was the Historic Preservation Agency, which runs dozens of sites, from the U.S. Grant Home in Galena to the Kincaid Mounds in far southern Illinois.

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Education Desk
12:22 pm
Tue July 22, 2014

With GED, Illinois Bundles Job Training

A new approach to adult education in Illinois puts GED instruction in the context of job skills, such as nursing, welding or operating a forklift.
Credit Mike Mozart (flickr.com/jeepersmedia)

Illinois is trying to expand educational opportunities for adults who didn't finish high school. That means moving beyond the GED.

The Census Bureau says average monthly earnings of a high school grad are nearly 10 percent higher than those of someone with a GED. And while a third of high school grads eventually earn a bachelor's degree, the GED number is 1 in 20.

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Pensions
11:26 am
Thu July 3, 2014

Ruling Puts Pension Overhaul In Doubt

Credit Illinois Supreme Court

The Illinois Supreme Court says free health care is a protected retirement benefit for certain government employees. It was cause for celebration among those who’ve opposed Illinois' attempts to save money by cutting retirement benefits. But Illinois' pension battles are far from over.

Many state retirees used to get premium-free health insurance. When the law was changed to make them pay, a group of them sued.

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Statehouse
1:00 pm
Tue July 1, 2014

In Illinois Legislature, A Culture Change On Criminal Sentencing

Credit flickr/meeshpants

Not long ago, it seemed every time a different type of crime started making the news, members of the Illinois General Assembly would rush to increase the penalty for that offense. But today — with prisons stuffed beyond capacity and state finances ailing — lawmakers have begun taking a more deliberate approach. Brian Mackey reports on a criminal sentencing culture change in the Illinois General Assembly.

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Election 2014
8:43 am
Mon June 23, 2014

Quinn Fundraising Appeal Tied To Bill Signing

Gov. Pat Quinn speaks to reporters in this file photo.
Credit Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

Voters will get to weigh in on whether Illinois should raise its minimum wage for adults to $10 an hour. Gov. Pat Quinn approved the ballot question Sunday, and wasted no time campaigning on the issue.

The question is just advisory — lawmakers don’t have to heed the people’s advice — but supporters of the increase say they hope it’ll pressure reluctant legislators to go along.

Critics say this is a ploy to get more Democrats to the polls — since turnout tends to be lower in non-presidential election years.

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Statehouse
6:00 am
Mon June 16, 2014

Illinois Outlaws Police Ticket Quotas

Credit flickr.com/appleswitch (Creative Commons)

Police ticket quotas are now illegal in Illinois. Over the weekend, Gov. Pat Quinn signed a law prohibiting the practice.

The backers of this change say there are better ways to evaluate a police officer than on how many tickets she writes.

They say quotas create divisions between the police and they communities they’re supposed to serve.

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Statehouse
4:38 pm
Fri June 13, 2014

Conservative Jack Roeser Left Imprint On State Politics

The Illinois Republican Party says longtime conservative activist Jack Roeser  has died. He was 90. The wealthy businessman spent years on the outside, fighting the party establishment.

Roeser became a rich man from the company he founded: Otto Engineering. It makes, among other things, radio components for police and military use.

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Statehouse
1:53 pm
Thu June 12, 2014

Lawsuit: Rutherford 'Coerced And Intimidated' Employee Into Political Work

Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford speaks with reporters in this file photo from August 2013.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

A former state employee on Thursday filed more allegations of political and sexual harassment against Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford. He's also expanding the list of defendants to include Mitt Romney's presidential campaign organization.

Edmund Michalowski quit the treasurer's office and sued Rutherford shortly before this year's Republican primary, driving his boss to last place in the race for governor.

His initial lawsuit was dismissed last week, but he was allowed to file another version.

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Wildlife
4:57 pm
Wed June 11, 2014

Rare In Illinois, Black Bear On The Move

A black bear is seen near Genoa, in DeKalb County, on the morning of Wednesday, June 11, 2014.
Credit DeKalb County Sheriff’s Dept. via Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources

A black bear has been spotted in northern Illinois, heading east across the state. The species was once well represented in Illinois, but they've been quite rare for more than a century.

The Illinois Department of Natural Resources says a bear hasn't been spotted in Illinois since 2009. Now there have been multiple sightings in the last week or so — from outside Galena, through Rockford, and most recently near Genoa, in DeKalb County.

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Science
4:30 pm
Mon June 9, 2014

Durbin: Climate Denial 'Mindless And Irresponsible'

Sen. Dick Durbin answers questions from reporters Monday after a speech at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield. The Illinois Democrat says it's "mindless and irresponsible" to ignore the scientists describing global warming.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

As Democrats in coal states rush to distance themselves from new federal regulations intended to address global warming — Senator Dick Durbin says Illinois is in a good position among coal-producing states.

The Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama says states have to gradually cut carbon pollution from power plants by 30 percent based on 2005 levels.

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Health Desk
3:14 pm
Mon June 9, 2014

Durbin: Raise Tobacco Tax To Fund Medical Research

Sen. Dick Durbin answers questions from reporters Monday after a speech at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield. The Illinois Democrat is calling for a higher federal tobacco tax to pay for more basic medical research.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Sen. Dick Durbin wants a cigarette tax hike to help pay for basic medical research. The Illinois Democrat made his case Monday in Springfield, before a group of doctors and scientists at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.

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Statehouse
6:00 am
Mon June 9, 2014

After Some Juvenile Arrests, A Fresh Start

Credit Flickr.com/banspy

A new law will automatically clear certain arrest records for juveniles when they turn 18. It’s meant to keep arrests that did not result in criminal charges from following kids into adulthood.

The law applies only to arrests for lesser crimes — mostly non-violent. Sex offenses and top felonies will stay on the books, as will any arrest that resulted in formal criminal charges.

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Statehouse
4:43 am
Fri June 6, 2014

Legislator Pay: Too Much or Too Little?

Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

A state senator and candidate for higher office on Thursday sought some attention for giving up a portion of his pay. This comes after Illinois lawmakers — for the first time in years — did not vote to symbolically cut their own pay. This form of salary self-denial has become popular in Illinois, but its roots are much deeper than that.

The base salary for a member of the Illinois General Assembly is $67,836 a year.

During the Great Recession, when Illinois’ finances were tanking, lawmakers decided to give some of that back.

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Statehouse
6:00 am
Thu June 5, 2014

Legislation Would Make Charter Schools Follow State Law On Special Ed, ELL

The Illinois General Assembly has approved legislation intended to make charter schools follow state laws for special education. But some lawmakers see this as the latest attack on charter schools.

  Charter schools already have to follow federal laws on special education and for students who are just learning English. But according to the Illinois State Board of Education, a "handful" say they were exempt from stricter state requirements.

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'Credit Negative'
8:46 am
Wed June 4, 2014

Moody's: Budget Could Undo 'Significant Progress'

"I don't know how you can blame us or the governor for a negative bond rating," Senate President John Cullerton says. "The Republicans are the ones saying, 'Don't raise the taxes, we don't need that. Make structural changes,' whatever that means."
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

The credit rating agency Moody's says Illinois is at risk of undermining progress toward better finances. It says the failure to extend current income tax rates could lead to a worsening deficit.

Moody's says because lawmakers failed to stop an automatic tax cut scheduled for the end of the year, Illinois could have to increase its backlog of unpaid bills. The state already has the lowest credit rating in the nation.

Republicans say this shows Illinois needs to further reduce costs, but Democratic Senate President John Cullerton says there isn't that much left to cut.

Statehouse
5:22 pm
Mon June 2, 2014

Term Limits Push Has Enough Signatures, But Lawsuit Still Threatens

Movers load a box containing the nearly 600,000 signatures gathered in an effort to impose term limits on Illinois lawmakers.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Illinois officials say a citizens' initiative to put term limits on state legislators has gathered enough signatures to appear on the ballot. But there are other roadblocks before that can happen.

  Collecting nearly twice the number of required signatures paid off for the Term Limits and Reform group.

Rupert Borgsmiller, director of the Illinois State Board of Elections, says a sample validated roughly 61 percent of those signatures. He says he expects to present those findings to the board for final approval on June 17.

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Statehouse
1:57 pm
Mon June 2, 2014

Unfinished Budget To Become Campaign Issue

Senate President John Cullerton speaks with reporters at the close of the Illinois General Assembly's spring session.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

With the Illinois General Assembly’s spring session over, lawmakers aren’t scheduled to return to the Capitol until November. Two months of fierce debate over state spending and taxes culminated in a stalemate, so they passed a placeholder budget that will likely have to be revisited at the end of the year.

What they did — and more importantly, what they didn't do — will shape the political conversation heading into this fall’s general election.

This year began with Democrats outlining an ambitious, progressive agenda for Illinois.

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Statehouse
2:45 am
Sat May 31, 2014

General Assembly Adjourns With Much Undone

House Speaker Michael Madigan addresses his colleagues at the close of the Illinois General Assembly's spring session.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

The General Assembly finished its legislative session shortly after midnight Saturday, approving a billion-dollar road construction program.

Democrats started the session with an ambitious agenda: raise the minimum wage, boost college assistance for low-income students, maybe even change Illinois' flat tax into a graduated one. In the end, none of that happened.

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Statehouse
4:02 pm
Wed May 28, 2014

Quinn Supports Minimum Wage Referendum

Credit wikimedia

Gov. Pat Quinn says he supports asking voters whether Illinois' minimum wage ought to be raised to $10 an hour.

The state Senate approved that question today for the November ballot.

Senator Kimberly Lightford, a Democrat from Maywood, says polling shows support for the hike across the state. She says a ballot question could give lawmakers the push they need.

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Statehouse
2:34 pm
Wed May 28, 2014

House Votes To Undo Medicaid Cuts On Adult Dental, Podiatry

Credit Karen Roach/iStockphoto.com

The Illinois House has voted to undo a series of cuts in the state's program of health care for the poor. Backers of the change say the cuts have come with a significant cost.

 Two years ago, Democrats and Republicans agreed to massive reductions in the Medicaid program, with savings estimated at greater than $2 billion. Now Democrats say some of those cuts are costing more than they're worth.

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Statehouse
11:37 am
Wed May 28, 2014

IMSA Spared Funding Cut Over Diversity ... For Now

State Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, is concerned about ethnic and economic diversity at the Illinois Math and Science Academy.
Credit ILGA.gov

The Illinois Math and Science Academy has been spared a significant cut under the budget approved Tuesday in the Illinois House.

Lawmakers had previously voted to slash $1.8 million from the elite public school's state funding.

Representative Ken Dunkin is a Democrat from Chicago and chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus. He says in prior years, IMSA has gotten increased state funding in order to improve diversity. Dunkin says he has not been satisfied with the results.

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Statehouse
11:16 pm
Tue May 27, 2014

House Democrats Reject Gov's Budget Ultimatum

The floor of the Illinois House during Tuesday's debate over the FY15 budget.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Two months after Governor Pat Quinn laid out his vision for Illinois' budget, the House of Representatives has approved a state spending plan. Quinn presented two options: make 2011's temporary tax hike permanent, or make steep cuts across government. Lawmakers considered those options and chose ... neither.

Quinn has been clear about the potential consequences of letting Illinois' income tax rate drop, as it's scheduled to do at the end of the year.

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Statehouse
5:57 pm
Tue May 27, 2014

Budget Plan Said To Lead To Layoffs, Payment Delays

Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, presents budget legislation Tuesday in the Illinois House of Representatives.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

The Illinois House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a spending plan for state government.

This is not an extension of Illinois' 5 percent income tax rate. It's also not the doomsday budget Gov. Pat Quinn and other Democrats warned would result without that permanently higher tax rate. Rather, it holds spending essentially flat across state government. But that doesn't mean Illinois' financial problems are solved.

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