Brian Mackey

Reporter/ State of the State Blog

Read Brian Mackey'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.

Treasurer Dan Rutherford
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.

black bear
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.

Dick Durbin
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.

Dick Durbin
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.

handcuffs
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.

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.

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.

John Cullerton
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.

term limits
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.

John Cullerton
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.

Michael Madigan
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.

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.

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.

Ken Dunkin
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.

House floor
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.

Luis Arroyo
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.

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.

Rep. Jim Durkin, R- Western Springs
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.

Gov. Pat Quinn
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.

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.

Bruce Rauner
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.

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.

Gov. Pat Quinn
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.

Gov. Pat Quinn
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.

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.

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?"

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.

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.

  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.

Doris Fogel at the Holocaust Memorial Ceremony
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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