Brian Mackey

Reporter/ State of the State Blog

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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Apollo 8
8:27 am
Tue December 24, 2013

Astronaut Recreates Christmas Eve Broadcast in Chicago

The crew of Apollo 8 captured "Earthrise" on Christmas Eve 1968.
Credit NASA

Retired astronaut Jim Lovell was in Chicago Monday to recreate Apollo 8's famous Christmas Eve broadcast from 1968. The original transmission came at the end of a tumultuous year.

With a seemingly intractable war in Vietnam, riots in American cities, and the assassination of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy — things were not looking up at Christmas 1968. It was against this backdrop that we heard from the three men aboard the first manned flight to the moon.

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Illinois Supreme Court
6:30 am
Mon December 23, 2013

Insurance Company Must Defend Policyholder

Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

The Illinois Supreme Court has put a limit on just who can be excluded from a car insurance policy.

Ana Reyes is being sued for allegedly hitting two people with her car — injuring a mother and killing the woman's four-year-old.

In the lawsuit that followed, Reyes’ insurance company argued it had no duty to defend Reyes or pay the victims.

Insurance company American Access listed Reyes as the policyholder, but it also excluded her from her own policy, and made another man the primary driver.

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Eric 'Guitar' Davis
5:41 pm
Fri December 20, 2013

Blues Musician With Local Ties Shot Dead

Eric "Guitar" Davis at the 2010 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn.
Credit Bob Kieser/Blues Blast Magazine via Illinois Central Blues Club

A Chicago blues guitarist who regularly performed in Springfield has been shot and killed.

Chicago police say officers found 41-year-old Eric "Guitar" Davis shot multiple times inside a vehicle in the South Shore neighborhood on Thursday morning.

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that Davis had spent the previous evening hanging out at a North Side blues bar called Kingston Mines.

Davis played with a group called the Troublemakers and was a fixture on Chicago's blues scene.

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Pensions
6:00 am
Tue December 17, 2013

Preparing To Implement Pension Overhaul — And Not To

Credit Arthur Public Library via IMLS DCC (creative commons)

Illinois’ biggest and most indebted pension system is beginning to implement changes tied to the pension overhaul passed this month. But officials are also making plans in case the new law is struck down.

The Teachers Retirement System is by far the biggest of Illinois’ five pension systems, with well over 360,000 members. TRS is also the biggest factor in the pension funding problem, accounting for more than half of the combined $100 billion shortfall.

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Politics
5:33 pm
Mon December 9, 2013

Sen. Mark Kirk Hospitalized for Gall Stones

Sen. Mark Kirk takes the stage a Repbulican rally at the 2013 Illinois State Fair.
Credit Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

Illinois U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk has had his gall bladder removed. The procedure happened Monday morning at a hospital in the northern suburbs of Chicago.

Kirk checked himself in to Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital on Saturday. He reported feeling pain in his abdomen. Doctors diagnosed gall stones, and decided to remove his gall bladder.

Dr. Kim Sobinsky did the 30-minute operation. He says most patients recover pretty quickly.

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Statehouse
1:16 am
Wed December 4, 2013

How They Finally Passed A Pension Overhaul

House Speaker Michael Madigan, right, forcefully argued for legislation to overhaul the state's pension systems.
Credit Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

The Illinois General Assembly approved sweeping cuts to state employee pensions Tuesday. The move comes after years of stalemate over how to address a hundred-billion dollar liability — the worst-funded pension plans of any state.

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Statehouse
5:52 pm
Tue December 3, 2013

Sweeping Pension Changes Approved

Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

The Illinois General Assembly has approved sweeping changes to pensions for state employees. Governor Pat Quinn says he will sign the legislation. It's intended to fix the worst-funded state retirement system in the country.

Illinois is roughly $100 billion short of the money it promised to pay state employees, university workers, and public school teachers.

After years of debate, lawmakers finally agreed on a solution to the problem: cutting benefits, mainly by reducing the three-percent annual increase retirees have gotten on their pensions.

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Statehouse
12:32 pm
Tue December 3, 2013

'Suspicious' Powder Mailed To State Office

Credit wikimedia

Officials say Gov. Pat Quinn's constituent office in Springfield was evacuated after an envelope with a "suspicious substance" was found.  Testing, however, revealed the substance was baby powder.

The Governor's Office of Constituent Affairs is located near the state Capitol where lawmakers and others were gathered ahead of an expected pension vote.  

Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson says the envelope was received Tuesday, the office was evacuated and necessary precautions were taken.  

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Statehouse
6:00 am
Tue December 3, 2013

Satellite TV Tax Could Help ADM, Office Depot

Credit ADM

Although pensions are atop the agenda Tuesday in Springfield, the Illinois General Assembly could consider a set of tax breaks for some of Illinois' biggest corporations.

Decatur-based Archer Daniels Midland is moving its corporate headquarters, and wants a tax break to remain in Illinois, most likely Chicago. Office Depot, newly merged with OfficeMax, is deciding whether to put its combined headquarters in Florida or Naperville.

The deal would let the companies keep money they deduct from employee paychecks for Illinois taxes.

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Election 2014
4:40 pm
Mon November 25, 2013

Rauner Made $53 Million In 2012

Bruce Rauner's 2012 tax returns show he made more than $53 million in 2012, most of it from interest and capital gains.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

One of the Republicans running for governor had a very good year in 2012. Bruce Rauner released his tax returns Monday, and says he made more than $53 million.

When people say, don't work for your money, make money work for you, this is what they're talking about.

Rauner's 2012 tax returns show he and his wife made almost all of their money on interest, capital gains, and real estate.

The line on his tax form for W-2s, where most people report "wages, salaries, (and) tips," shows zero dollars.

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Vade, Satana
2:17 am
Thu November 21, 2013

Bishop Holds 'Minor Exorcism' Over Same-Sex Marriage

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield speaks with reporters after his prayers of "exorcism" over same-sex marriage.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Minutes after Gov. Pat Quinn made gay marriage legal in Illinois, the Roman Catholic bishop of Springfield began a prayer service in response. Tuesday's service was formally called a prayer of “exorcism.” But the ceremony was more subdued than that dramatic word might suggest.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki was methodical, even dispassionate, as he led at least 200 of the faithful in prayer.

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Gettysburg Address
9:03 am
Wed November 20, 2013

At Lincoln's Tomb, Remembering A Fallen Son

Staff Sgt. Lincoln Hollinsaid was killed April 7, 2013, in Iraq. An Army engineer, he was driving a crane at the Baghdad airport when it was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade.
Credit Illinois National Guard

A unique group of families met in Springfield Tuesday for their own commemoration of the Gettysburg Address. It's the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's speech consecrating a Civil War cemetery.

Nowadays, the most famous speech in American history is chiefly remembered for the quality of its rhetoric.

But for others, it's the substance of Lincoln's words that counts.

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Big Bank Settlement
8:25 am
Wed November 20, 2013

JPMorgan Chase To Pay Illinois Pension Funds $100 Million

Chase Tower in Chicago.
Credit John Picken (flickr.com/picken)

The bank JPMorgan Chase will pay Illinois' pension funds $100 million under a national settlement announced Tuesday. The payment is a result of the bank's misconduct leading up to the Great Recession.

Like a lot of investors in the last decade, Illinois' pension funds had a good chunk of change in mortgage-backed securities. Once the housing market collapsed and homeowners began defaulting, the value of those securities collapsed, too.

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Election 2014
6:19 pm
Mon November 18, 2013

Can This Man Beat Illinois' Most Popular Politician?

Republican Mike Webster will challenge incumbent Democrat Jesse White for Illinois secretary of state. White is seeking a fifth term.
Credit www.facebook.com/MikeWebsterIL

Illinois' longtime secretary of state finally has at least one challenger in next year's election. Republican Mike Webster says he'll take on Democrat Jesse White.

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Statehouse
5:07 pm
Fri November 15, 2013

Thoughts On Fracking? Illinois Wants To Hear From You

Horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves pumping massive amounts of water and chemicals underground, shattering rock, in order to release oil and natural gas.
Credit WSIU

Illinois took another step Friday toward allowing hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The state has published draft rules on the controversial oil and gas extraction process, and it's looking for comments from the public.

Back in the spring, lawmakers touted Illinois' fracking law as the toughest in the country. It was the product of long negotiations between environmentalists and business groups.

But a big part of any law is what's left to regulation. Enter the Department of Natural Resources, which has published 150 pages of proposed rules on fracking.

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Church and State
10:32 am
Thu November 14, 2013

Bishop To Hold 'Prayers of Exorcism' On Same-Sex Marriage

Bishop Thomas Paprocki
Credit Springfield Diocese

The Roman Catholic Bishop of Springfield plans a special prayer service the day same-sex marriage is to be signed into law. He says it's "scandalous" that so many Catholic politicians supported the legislation.

Gov. Pat Quinn is planning a big public ceremony to sign the same-sex marriage bill next Wednesday (Nov. 20) in Chicago.

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Election 2014
9:48 am
Thu November 14, 2013

Candidates Still Staking Out Positions On Same-Sex Marriage

Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford spoke with reporters Nov. 13, 2013, in the Press Room of the Illinois Capitol.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Although same-sex marriage will soon be law in Illinois, the issue could remain a factor in the 2014 elections.

For most Democrats — especially those in and around Chicago — same-sex marriage is a winning political issue with core voters.

It's a lot tricker for Republicans. A majority of conservatives are opposed to legal same-sex marriage, but in a Democratic-leaning state like Illinois, Republicans need to win votes from independents, too.

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Juvenile Justice
9:18 am
Thu November 14, 2013

Illinois Considering Independent Monitor For Youth Prisons

The Illinois General Assembly is weighing the creation of a "juvenile ombudsman," an independent official who can keep an eye on the state's juvenile prisons.

The push for an ombudsman comes in the wake of a report that ranks Illinois' juvenile prisons among the worst in the country for sexual abuse.

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Prison Closures
9:10 am
Thu November 14, 2013

Illinois Needs Comprehensive Plan For Facilities: Rutherford

Credit flickr/katerha

A Republican candidate for governor is once again calling for Illinois to change the way it manages major facilities, like prisons and developmental centers. That includes how the state closes such facilities.

State Treasurer Dan Rutherford says past attempts to close prisons and other big state institutions have been haphazard. He says this has been going on for years, back at least to the administrations of former governors Ryan and Blagojevich. But it's still happening, as with this year's closure of the women's prison in Dwight.

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What's a 'Fiscal Note'?
6:00 am
Fri November 8, 2013

Black Lawmakers Block Chicago Gun Bill

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, seen in this file photo, had legislation blocked by members of the Black Caucus.
Credit cityofchicago.org

The city of Chicago had a setback in Springfield Thursday.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been pushing to increase prison sentences for people convicted of gun crimes. But on the last day of the Illinois legislature's fall veto session, a group of African-American legislators used a parliamentary maneuver to block him.

Such tactics are not uncommon in politics — but this was a rare example of Illinois Democrats pulling a fast one on members of their own party.

The problem of violence that plagues parts of Chicago is national news.

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Statehouse
8:52 am
Thu November 7, 2013

Tax Breaks For ADM, Office Depot Advancing in Senate

A Senate panel has approved legislation that would give tax incentives to two of Illinois biggest corporations — Office Depot and Archer Daniels Midland.

ADM says it's moving its head office from Decatur to a larger city.

Chicago is thought to top the list of alternatives, but the company has also checked out Minneapolis and Atlanta. That said, ADM executive Gregory Webb told senators the company would prefer to stay in Illinois.

"We have 17,000 North American employees, and 4,500 of them are in Decatur. So Illinois is a preference," Webb said.

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Statehouse
1:38 am
Wed November 6, 2013

Marriage Debate Hinges On 'Freedom'

Gov. Pat Quinn was on the floor of the Illinois House for the debate on same-sex marriage. The Chicago Democrat says he'll sign the marriage legislation.
Credit Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

Same-sex marriage will soon be legal in Illinois. The House narrowly approved legislation Tuesday, and Governor Pat Quinn says he'll sign it into law.

The vote came after months of intense lobbying, in which both sides claimed they were fighting for individual freedom.

It's been a busy year for people who care about same-sex marriage in Illinois. Supporters had an early victory on Valentine's Day, when the state Senate approved what backers call "marriage equality" legislation.

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Statehouse
6:00 am
Tue November 5, 2013

Activists Pushing For Graduated Income Tax

A group of activists are working to end Illinois' flat income tax. They say they've gathered more than 150-thousand signatures so far, and are making their case to Illinois lawmakers.

Income in Illinois is taxed at a uniform five percent, whether you're working at a drive-thru window or you're the CEO of a multi-national corporation.

The people pushing what they call a "fair tax" would have wealthy people pay more, while middle- and lower-income people would pay less. That's already how federal income taxes work.

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Statehouse
12:56 pm
Mon November 4, 2013

Car Dealers Push To Change Leasing Tax

Credit Flickr user oldbrochures

The price of leasing a car in Illinois could be lowered under a proposal before the Illinois General Assembly. Automobile dealers say leasing in Illinois has lagged behind other states.

If you were to lease a car today, chances are you'd be charged for tax on the full value of the vehicle, just like if you were buying it.

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Education
6:00 am
Thu October 31, 2013

Grade Deflation On School Report Cards

Illinois schools and school districts get report cards Thursday. Many will appear to have suffered a significant drop in student achievement. But state officials say that’s just because they’ve changed how students are evaluated.

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Regional
11:39 am
Mon October 28, 2013

'Lincoln' Artifacts Coming To Lincoln Museum

Daniel Day-Lewis, center, portrays the title character in "Lincoln." One of his costumes and the cabinet room set are among the items from the film to be displayed at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.
Credit DreamWorks Pictures and Twentieth Century Fox

A piece of Hollywood is coming to Illinois. Director Steven Spielberg is sending props and sets from the movie “Lincoln” to be part of a new exhibit at Springfield’s Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum.

The museum will get two big sets: the Lincoln bedroom, and the cabinet room in which the president — played by Daniel Day-Lewis — argued for passage of a constitutional amendment to abolish slavery.

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Statehouse
11:35 am
Mon October 28, 2013

Old Union Pay Raises Still In Limbo

Rep. Lou Lang speaks with reporters in this April 2013 file photo.
Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Union workers are still fighting for raises they were owed starting in 2011, but have never been paid. A court has ruled in their favor, but the Illinois legislature is still debating whether to make good.

To finally settle the pay raise issue, lawmakers would have to come up with about $100 million.

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Veto Session
10:12 am
Thu October 24, 2013

Museums Lose Bid To Cut Free Days

Field Museum visitors are greeted by Sue, said to be the world's most complete skeleton of a T. rex.
Credit Paul Hudson via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Many Illinois museums will continue to have to offer 52 free days a year. That's after the Illinois House failed to override a veto of legislation that would have cut that number in half.

The museum proposal is one of the few actual vetoes lawmakers had to deal with during their veto session.

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Gambling
9:53 am
Thu October 24, 2013

Renewed Push For Casinos, But Regulators Still Worry About Chicago

Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Illinois lawmakers on Wednesday heard from supporters and opponents of allowing more casinos in Illinois. But they're no closer to making a deal.

Gambling was a big issue earlier this year, but negotiations fell apart in May, at the end of the spring legislative session. Since then, attention has moved to other issues, like the state's underfunded pension systems.

On the table are five new casinos — in Chicago and its north and south suburbs, in Rockford, and in Danville. The plan would also allow slot machines at horse racetracks.

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Statehouse
6:00 am
Wed October 23, 2013

Veto Session So Far: Nothing Happening

Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Illinois lawmakers returned to Springfield Tuesday for their fall veto session. Guns, gay marriage and corporate tax breaks are on the agenda. But nothing is moving yet.

Supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage are rallying in the Capitol this week, but the sponsor of marriage legislation won't say when or if he'll call it for a vote.

Meanwhile, OfficeMax and Archer Daniels Midland are among the companies seeking millions of dollars in tax breaks to keep their corporate headquarters in Illinois, but those proposals are still being negotiated.

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