Brian Mackey

Reporter / Anchor

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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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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Statehouse
3:25 pm
Thu May 22, 2014

Speaker Wants 'Millionaire Tax' Referendum

House Speaker Michael Madigan wants voters to weigh in on his so-called "millionaires' tax" at the November elections.

The referendum would ask if income greater than a million dollars should be taxed an additional three percent, with the money going to schools.

Earlier this year, Madigan tried to put this before voters as a constitutional amendment, but he says there wasn't enough support in the House.

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Statehouse
12:19 pm
Thu May 22, 2014

Republican Leader: Latest Budget Moves 'Typical End-Of-Year Misdirection'

House Republican Leaders Jim Durkin says he thinks Democrats will round up enough votes to make the 5 percent income tax rate permanent.
Credit Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

  A day after House Democrats said they're unwilling to extend Illinois' higher income tax rate, government observers are trying to figure out what happens next. Top Democrats say they're moving forward on an austerity budget, but things in the Statehouse are rarely as clear as they seem.

House Speaker Michael Madigan took a closed-door poll of his Democratic lawmakers, and found just 34 of the 60 votes needed to make the current income tax rate permanent.

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Statehouse
1:46 am
Thu May 22, 2014

Budget Fight Moves From Taxes To Spending — For Now

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn has called for permanently setting the state income tax rate at 5 percent.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Democrats in the Illinois House on Wednesday handed a significant defeat to Governor Pat Quinn. Fewer than half are willing to go along with his push to extend a higher income tax rate. That could mean significant cuts in state spending. Brian Mackey reports on how Democrats backed themselves into this corner, and where they go from here.

Quinn has for two months been asking lawmakers to make 2011’s temporary income tax hike permanent.

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Statehouse
4:49 pm
Wed May 21, 2014

Governor's Tax Plan Fails Among House Democrats

House Speaker Michael Madigan is seen in this December 2013 file photo.
Credit Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

Illinois lawmakers are going back to the drawing board on a state spending plan. Although Gov. Pat Quinn and top Democrats have been pushing for an extension of a higher income tax rate, House Speaker Michael Madigan says there isn't enough support for that.

  With Republicans uniformly opposed to keeping Illinois income tax rate at 5 percent -- instead of letting it drop as scheduled at the end of the year — both Quinn and Madigan have been working to get 60 Democratic members of the House on board.

Then, on Wednesday afternoon, House Democrats met behind closed doors.

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Statehouse
4:49 pm
Tue May 20, 2014

Rauner Wades Deeper Into Tax Debate, But Offers No Budget Plan

Bruce Rauner is robo-calling voters in seven House districts he says are key to the income tax debate.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner is wading deeper into the debate over whether Illinois ought to extend a higher income tax rate. He's still refusing to say how he would manage the state budget.

The Rauner campaign says it's making robo-calls to voters in seven House districts. These are key Democrats in the budget debate — most have previously taken positions against the higher tax rate.

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Statehouse
2:23 pm
Tue May 20, 2014

Republicans: Ask Voters About Income Tax

Credit wikimedia

The question of whether to extend Illinois' temporary income tax increase has dominated the spring legislative session. On Tuesday, Republicans said the question ought to be put to voters this fall.

Illinois voters will face a long list of referenda on the November ballot: on voting rights and crime victims rights, and possibly the minimum wage, term limits for lawmakers and legislative district map-making.

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Statehouse
11:27 pm
Mon May 19, 2014

Quinn Pitches Tax Plan To House Democrats

Gov. Pat Quinn speaks with reporters Monday in the Capitol after meeting with House Democrats for more than two-and-a-half hours.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Gov. Pat Quinn appealed directly to Democrats in the Illinois House Monday evening. He’s struggling to win support for his plan to extend Illinois’ higher income tax rate.

The governor appeared at a closed meeting of the Illinois House Democratic caucus.

Quinn is trying to win the support of the 60 Democrats required to make Illinois’ 5 percent income-tax rate permanent — instead of letting it decline by more than a percentage point as scheduled at the end of the year. Quinn warns without the higher tax rate, there will have to be drastic cuts in state services.

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Statehouse
12:43 pm
Mon May 19, 2014

Quinn To Meet With House Democrats On Budget, Taxes

Gov. Pat Quinn, seen in this 2013 file photo, will make his case for an extension of the income tax at a meeting of House Democrats Monday afternoon.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Illinois lawmakers return to Springfield Monday to begin the final two weeks of the spring legislative session. The big question remains whether Democratic leaders can convince enough rank-and-file lawmakers ... to make a higher income tax rate permanent.

Although Gov. Pat Quinn, Senate President John Cullerton, and House Speaker Michael Madigan all support making the temporary 5-percent income tax rate permanent — Madigan in particular has had a hard time getting fellow House Democrats to go along.

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