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.

Capitol security checkpoint
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.

Barry Maram
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)

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.

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.

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.

Casino Queen
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.

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.

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.

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.

Speaker Michael Madigan
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.

The Capitol
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.

Bruce Rauner and Pat Quinn
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!”

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.

wikimedia

After months of campaigning, Illinois voters go to the polls Tuesday. But turnout for recent primary elections has been quite low.

Jim Tenuto, with the State Board of Elections, says fewer than one in four registered voters has pulled a primary ballot in recent years. And leading up to the primary, things have been calm this year, too.

"This election seems very quiet as far as phone calls and inquiries," he says. Tenuto says there's no way to predict turnout, but he says early voting is down 14 percent from the last election in 2012.

WUIS

Illinois' economy has been topic A among the men seeking the Republican nomination for governor. Getting far less attention are social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. For a party whose rough primaries have often been compared to “circular firing squads,” the lack of focus on the topic is unusual. Brian Mackey looks at what’s behind the social silence.

State Sen. Kirk Dillard, from Hinsdale, can tell you exactly how close he came to winning the Republican gubernatorial primary four years ago.

MACKEY: “Was it 193 votes?”

Kirk Dillard
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Republican candidate for governor Kirk Dillard has picked up the endorsement of the the state's largest government-employee union. But with less than two weeks until the election, Brian Mackey asks if it's too little, too late.

Dillard's endorsement from AFSCME comes after front runner Bruce Rauner has been blanketing the state with television ads for months.

Rauner has been pounding a message that he'll fight so-called "government union bosses." He says state employees bargaining for salaries and benefits is "corrupt" and "immoral," and one of Illinois' biggest problems.

Brian Mackey/WUIS

Illinois' primary election is less than two weeks away. The four men seeking the Republican nomination for governor agree on a lot of topics. But there is an issue in which one of the candidates has distinguished himself: government-employee unions. Brian Mackey takes us inside the debate over whether government workers ought to be able to negotiate over their jobs.

You don’t have to spend a lot of time listening to investor Bruce Rauner to know where he stands on public-sector unions. The disdain drips from a three word phrase he uses again and again and again:

Conservation police
DNR/D.J. Case and Associates

A group of lawmakers is challenging the broad powers enjoyed by Illinois' conservation police officers. At issue is whether the officers can operate on private land without a warrant.

Illinois law lets conservation police enter "all lands and waters" to enforce the Wildlife Code. The idea is, even if you have a huge private forest, you’re not allowed to, say, shoot a deer out of season.

State Rep. Dennis Reboletti, a Republican from Elmhurst, says just about every other type of police officer operates under stricter limits.

Kirk Dillard
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Republican gubernatorial candidate Kirk Dillard got the endorsement of a retired group of teachers Wednesday. But he’s still lagging front-runner Bruce Rauner, who continues to tap his significant personal fortune for his campaign.

The Illinois Retired Teachers Association has nearly 36,000 members. President Bob Pinkerton says this is the first time the group has endorsed a candidate for governor.

Gov. Pat Quinn
Brian Mackey/WUIS

An audit Tuesday criticized an anti-violence program Governor Pat Quinn pushed during his 2010 election campaign.Republicans wasted no time in calling for an investigation.

The non-partisan audit (PDF) says the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative was "hastily implemented" and did not use standard financial safeguards.

Brian Mackey / WUIS

The Illinois House took a key first step in the state budgeting process Tuesday.

It adopted what's called a "revenue estimate" — how much money Illinois is expected to be able to spend in the next fiscal year.

The cap, of $34.495 billion, is significant in several ways: It's about a billion less than last year's number, which means lawmakers are going to have extend the tax increase or find other sources of money, or they'll have to make a lot of cuts. On the other hand, it's not as bad as some people had feared.

The Illinois Senate is considering limits on the ways law enforcement can use electronic tracking information. Both privacy advocates and police are in favor of the change.

With the popularity of GPS-enabled smart phones, many of us are constantly broadcasting our location. And Illinois law doesn't have much to say about how that information can and can't be used against us in court.

Privacy advocates want restrictions. And even law enforcement can be left guessing as to what's legal.

Illinois lawmakers are considering whether to crack down on universities giving a certain type of interest-free loan to faculty. Except it doesn’t seem to be happening in Illinois.

State Rep. Jack Franks, a Democrat from Marnego, says the legislation is meant to prevent universities from abusing their tax-exempt status.

“What we found was that tax-exempt universities were giving interest-free … loans, and also forgiving loans, for second homes for professors, at a time when students are taking on excessive debt," Franks says.

Illinois Supreme Court
Brian Mackey / WUIS

A court case decided in Arizona Thursday could have implications for Illinois' ongoing legal battle over pensions. The decision (pdf), by the Arizona Supreme Court, struck down an attempt to reduce Arizona officials' retirement benefits.

Internet Archive Wayback Machine

Illinois lawmakers are considering whether to increase the penalties for a type of Internet shaming known as "revenge porn." It involves posting naked photos of someone on the Web without their consent.

Diana Pisone is an interior designer from Oak Park. A few years ago, she was in what she describes as an emotionally abusive relationship. Sometimes, when her husband said "do this or else," she'd let him tape her in compromising situations.

flickr/LizMarie_AK

Illinois lawmakers are considering what steps police should have to take before questioning kids at school.

The legislation would basically make police read kids their Miranda rights — that they can remain silent, and anything they say can be used against them in court.

It would also make police notify parents they have the opportunity to be present during questioning.

Sen. Kim Lightford, a Democrat from Maywood, calls it a "student bill of rights."

John Cullerton
Illinois Senate

The top Democrat in the Illinois Senate on Monday went on the offensive over state spending. Senate President John Cullerton is calling out the Republicans running for governor.

Cullerton laid out the hits expected in next year's budget, including the roll back of the income tax hike and mandatory spending increases on things like personnel and healthcare for the poor. Add it up, Cullerton says, and it's a nearly $3 billion hole.

deer
Flickr user "jonnnnnn" (Creative Commons)

Efforts to reduce the number of deer in Illinois have been so successful that the state plans to reduce the number of hunting permits this year.

Illinois already met its goal of reducing the deer population statewide a few years ago. But some counties still had herds deemed problematic — causing car accidents and crop damage.

Now, in more than 40 counties, officials at the Department of Natural Resources want to see the number of deer go up by anywhere from one to 29 percent.

Courtesy of HardimanForIllinois.com

  Democratic candidate for governor Tio Hardiman is lashing out at incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn for refusing to debate in the run-up to the March primary. Quinn isn't saying much in response.

A spokeswoman for the Quinn campaign previously said there would be no debates between he and Hardiman.

On Wednesday, the governor was asked why voters shouldn't be able to hear from both men face to face.

"Well, they know where I stand," he said. "And I think he can make his campaign and I'll make mine, and voters will decide."

Hardiman, on the other hand, says:

Annie Leibovitz
Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

The photographer Annie Leibovitz is best known for shooting celebrities. Her elaborately staged work is a staple of Vanity Fair and Vogue magazines. But a few years ago, she set out on a more personal project — a pilgrimage to capture places and objects connected to people who've inspired her, including Abraham Lincoln.

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