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
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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Statehouse
9:45 pm
Wed May 14, 2014

Lacking 'Black And Brown Children,' IMSA To Lose $1.8m

State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia's Aurora district includes the Illinois Math and Science Academy.
Credit ILGA.gov

In the House Democratic budget plan, most state institutions would get level funding or a slight increase.

One of the few cuts is directed at the Illinois Math and Science Academy.

Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, a Democrat whose Aurora district includes IMSA, says the decrease is because the elite high school has failed to meet diversity goals.

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Statehouse
9:35 pm
Wed May 14, 2014

House Democrats Play Coy On Taxes

Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Illinois House Democrats are assembling a budget plan for state government. But a big piece of the puzzle is being left out.

The plan makes it seem obvious House Democrats have heeded Gov. Pat Quinn's call to keep the income tax rate at 5 percent. Except they won't actually say that out loud.

Rep. Greg Harris of Chicago typified the coyness.

"This always comes own to the last couple weeks," he says, "and we have to look at different sources of revenue. We have to look at: Do we add here? Do we cut there?"

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Blue Laws
6:02 am
Tue May 13, 2014

Buy A Car On Sunday? Dealers Say No

Car dealers could legally operate on Sundays in Illinois until the law was changed in 1982.
Credit Alden Jewell (Flickr/autohistorian)

An Illinois lawmakers is trying to change state law so car dealers can be open on Sundays. But he's facing long odds.

When Sen. Jim Oberweis, from Sugar Grove, learned it was against the law for a car dealer to be open on Sunday, his Republican instincts kicked in.

"Being a business guy, I thought that I would be the hero of the automobile industry by getting this over-reaching government off the backs of car sales," Oberweis said.

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Statehouse
3:52 pm
Wed May 7, 2014

Jury Duty: ¿Se Habla Español?

Cook County is among the locations where jurors would be allowed to serve with translators.
Credit Wikimedia Commons/user: kmaschke

Jury duty could soon be open to people who are not fluent in the English language. The Illinois Senate today approved a pilot program to provide translators for jurors.

Illinois law currently says jurors must be able to "understand the English language." This proposal would allow jurors who speak other languages to have interpreters.

It's the idea of Dan Locallo, a retired Cook County judge.

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Statehouse
7:57 am
Wed May 7, 2014

Lawmakers With Subpoena Powers — Necessary, Or Just for Show?

Gov. Pat Quinn touted the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative as he was up for election in 2010.

  A group of lawmakers granted themselves subpoena power Tuesday, to further an investigation into an anti-violence program favored by Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. Brian Mackey looks at whether it's necessary — or just for show.

The Neighborhood Recovery Initiative was rushed out in fall 2010, as Quinn was up for election.

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Yom HaShoah
6:00 am
Fri May 2, 2014

Holocaust Survivor Tells Of Shanghai Ghetto

Doris Fogel, in foreground, recounts her childhood as a refugee from the Nazis, spent among 20,000 Jews in the Shanghai ghetto. Behind her is Gov. Pat Quinn. The annual Holocaust Memorial Ceremony took place in the House chamber of the Old State Capitol in Springfield.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Illinois officials are remembering the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust. An annual ceremony took place Thursday in Springfield's Old State Capitol.

Praying: "Y'hey sh'lama raba min sh'ma-ya ..."

The ceremony included the Kaddish — a Jewish prayer of mourning. Gov. Pat Quinn and other officials spoke. Then a survivor shared her story.

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Grit and Grin
10:46 pm
Thu May 1, 2014

12th Congressional District Opponents Unite Over Levee Bill

Republican state Rep. Mike Bost, left, listens to Democratic Congressman Bill Enyart testify about legislation to allow repairs to a levy in southern Illinois. The men are competing for the 12th Congressional District seat currently held by Enyart.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

An Illinois House committee on Thursday approved legislation that would allow repairs to a levee in Grand Tower, in southern Illinois. It would have been routine except for the featured witness — sitting U.S. Rep. Bill Enyart.

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Election 2014
7:30 pm
Wed April 30, 2014

Quinn's, Rauner's Springfield Visits Show True Colors

Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

  The governor of Illinois, as well as the man who wants to take his job, were both in Springfield Wednesday. What they were doing offers a clear picture of the different directions they want to take the state.

Republican Bruce Rauner was in town to file petitions for his term limits proposal. Then he addressed a meeting of business groups holding an "Employer Action Day."

"Let's make Illinois the most attractive state to do business, rather than one of the most hostile states to do business," he said. "Nothing else more important than that. Number one priority by far."

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Medicaid
3:36 pm
Tue April 29, 2014

Ill. Medicaid Recipients Surge As Adults Find They're Eligible

Credit Karen Roach/iStockphoto.com

  Illinois officials are dealing with a surge of new patients in the Medicaid program. It's part of last month's rush of people seeking coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

For the first time, low-income adults without children are eligible for government health coverage.

In Illinois, officials expect that'll mean 350,000 new people in Medicaid. And that's not all.

Julie Hamos, director of the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, says the news reports and advertising and community outreach around the Obamacare deadline led to a separate spike.

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Budget Cuts
5:24 pm
Mon April 28, 2014

Illinois Capitol Police Face Elimination

Metal detectors and X-ray machines were installed in the Illinois Capitol after a gunman killed an unarmed security guard in 2004.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Illinois lawmakers continue to hear dire scenarios for the state budget if they do not vote to extend the five-percent income tax rate. The latest threatened cuts include the entire state Capitol Police force.

The Capitol Police Department was established less than 10 years ago, after a deranged man shot and killed an unarmed security officer.

The shooting led to the installation of metal detectors and x-ray machines, and hiring sworn, armed law enforcement personnel.

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Revolving Door
5:42 pm
Fri April 25, 2014

Former HFS Director To Pay $100k Ethics Fine

Former HFS director Barry Maram says he agreed, after four years, to settle the ethics complaint "in order to finally put it to rest."
Credit shefskylaw.com

A former state official has agreed to pay a record $100,000 fine to settle charges he violated a state ethics law. Barry Maram is accused of going to work for a state contractor a week after he left his job as director of Healthcare and Family Services.

Maram was HFS director from the earliest days of the Blagojevich administration through April 2010.

Maram went on to take a job with the Chicago law firm Shefsky & Forelich (now part of Taft)

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Statehouse
5:32 pm
Mon April 21, 2014

Quinn Signs Law Intended To Lower Cost Of Auto Leasing

Credit Flickr user oldbrochures

Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday signed legislation intended to lower the cost of leasing a car in Illinois. Backers of the law say far fewer people lease in Illinois than in surrounding states.

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Education
5:06 pm
Fri April 18, 2014

Illinois Finally Gets 'No Child Left Behind' Waiver

Credit flickr/LizMarie_AK

After more than two years of trying, Illinois has finally won a waiver from the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind. Brian Mackey reports on what this means for schools in Illinois.

  The short answer is not much.

Illinois has already been moving beyond the No Child Left Behind law for some time, even as it waited for permission from the federal government.

Matt Vanover, a spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education, says there were problems with No Child Left Behind.

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Jobs
6:00 am
Fri April 18, 2014

Employment Improves, But Illinois Still Lags U.S.

The Illinois State Capitol, in a fog.
Credit Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

The latest state job numbers are out and the news for Illinois is mixed. The unemployment rate is down. But fewer people were hired than expected, and Illinois still lags the nation.

Illinois' March unemployment rate is 8.4 percent. That's the best it's been in more than five years, but it's still among the worst rates in the country.

On top of that, officials blame the unseasonably cold weather for the fact that fewer jobs were added in March than in the previous month.

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Gambling
5:00 am
Thu April 17, 2014

Plan Threatens Proposed Downstate Casinos

In one of the latest gambling proposals, slot machines would be denied to Fairmount Park (though not other horse racetracks) over concerns it would hurt the nearby Casino Queen, in East St. Louis.
Credit Paul Sableman (pasa47) via Flickr

A group of Illinois lawmakers considered two different plans to expand gambling Wednesday. One tracks other recent proposals to add five casinos across Illinois; the other focuses on Chicago.

Every expansion of gambling in Illinois has required a delicate balance of competing geographic and businesses interests.

That's why plans in recent years have called for slot machines at horse racetracks, and five new casinos: in Chicago, the south suburbs, Lake County, Rockford, and Danville.

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Federal Spending
1:43 pm
Tue April 15, 2014

Durbin Calls For A Return of 'Earmarks'

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin speaks with reporters in this file photo.
Credit Hannah Meisel/WUIS

It's been a few years since Congressional "earmarks" were eliminated from federal transportation spending. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin says it's time to bring them back.

Earmarks have a bad name — remember the "bridge to nowhere," a plan to spend nearly $400 million on a bridge to an island in Alaska with 50 residents?

Durbin says earmarks should have been reformed, not eliminated. He says legislators are in touch with the transportation needs of their districts and states.

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Campaign Finance
6:00 am
Mon April 14, 2014

Illinois Senate Joins Push For U.S. Constitutional Convention

America has had only one national constitutional convention — so far.
Credit Howard Chandler Christy via Wikimedia Commons

The Illinois Senate has joined a push for a national constitutional convention. Organizers want to change the way political campaigns are financed.

The last time there was a Constitutional Convention, it was presided over by George Washington.

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Statehouse
4:37 pm
Wed April 9, 2014

S&P: Next Two Months 'Critical' For Illinois Finances

Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

A major credit rating agency says the next two months will be "critical" for the future of Illinois' finances. The key question is whether to make a temporary tax hike permanent.

Like most of the big credit rating agencies, Standard & Poor's has been bearish on Illinois finances — lowering the state's credit rating four times in recent years.

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Illinois Constitution
9:10 am
Wed April 9, 2014

Madigan on Voting Rights: 'We Don't Know What The Future Holds'

House Speaker Michael Madigan, right, acknowledges voter suppression has not been a big problem in Illinois.
Credit Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

The Illinois House has approved a proposal to add protections for voting rights to the Illinois Constitution.

The measure is sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan himself.

In explaining why he thinks it's necessary, he recalled the federal Voting Rights Act, and the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision to "modify" parts of that law.

"That modification by the Supreme Court has apparently brought on efforts in other states to enact legislation that some of us would consider to be voter suppression," Madigan says, pointing to voter ID laws.

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Statehouse
5:00 am
Thu March 27, 2014

Pension Savings Estimate Lowered — But Is It A Big Deal?

Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

A new report (PDF) says Illinois' pension overhaul will save less money than advertised. Some politicians are trying to make hay out of that. But it might not be such a big deal.

The pension vote came with promises of big savings — $160 billion. Then, after it was already law, a new analysis of the bill said, well, maybe we'll save $145 billion.

This latest report puts savings even lower, at $137 billion.

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Election 2014
4:04 am
Wed March 19, 2014

Rauner, Quinn Chart Course For Conflict

Republican Bruce Rauner will take on Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn in this fall's election.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

The election returns in yesterday’s Illinois primary were not even in before the candidates for governor started attacking each other. Republicans chose wealthy investor Bruce Rauner to take on Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn. Brian Mackey looks at the surprisingly close election results, and what’s ahead for the campaign.

Rauner spent millions more dollars than all his rivals combined, and had huge leads in the polls. But in the end, he only won by three percentage points. Of course, a victory is still a victory.

RAUNER: “Let’s get ‘em! Let’s get ‘em!”

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Election 2014
8:07 pm
Tue March 18, 2014

Rutherford: 'I'm Looking Forward To Vindicating Myself'

Credit danrutherford.org

  Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford basically conceded his campaign for governor earlier tonight.

His standing in the polls plummeted after a former employee filed a lawsuit accusing the treasurer of sexual harassment and coercing him to do political work.

Rutherford says the past few weeks have been the most challenging in his life.

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