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.

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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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Election 2014
6:00 am
Tue March 18, 2014

Early Voting Declines From Previous Elections

Illinois polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 18.
Credit 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.

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Election 2014
6:00 am
Mon March 10, 2014

Why Are Republicans Avoiding Social Issues?

The four candidates for governor seem to be downplaying social issues in this year's Republican primary.
Credit 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?”

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Election 2014
11:56 am
Thu March 6, 2014

Dillard's AFSCME Endorsement: Too Little, Too Late?

AFSCME is the third government-employee union to endorse state Sen. Kirk Dillard for governor, coming after the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers.
Credit 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.

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Election 2014
8:25 am
Wed March 5, 2014

Candidates Disagree On Government Unions

The men seeking the Republican nomination for governor of Illinois: state Sens. Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady, investor Bruce Rauner, and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford.
Credit 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:

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Fourth Amendment
6:00 am
Mon March 3, 2014

Legislation Targets Conservation Police

Conservation police officers check the license of a trapper in this Department of Natural Resources photo.
Credit 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.

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Election 2014
1:50 pm
Wed February 26, 2014

Dillard Picks Up Teachers' Endorsement; Rauner Still Pouring Own Money Into Race

Republican gubernatorial candidate Kirk Dillard, a state senator from Hinsdale, accepts the endorsement of the Illinois Retired Teachers Association Wednesday in the Illinois Capitol.
Credit 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.

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'Hastily Implemented'
11:50 pm
Tue February 25, 2014

Audit Slams Anti-Violence Program Pushed By Quinn

Credit 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.

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Statehouse
4:07 pm
Tue February 25, 2014

House Sets Spending Cap — Down $1b From Last Year

Credit 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.

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Statehouse
6:00 am
Tue February 25, 2014

Prosecutor Backing Electronic Privacy Bill

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.

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Higher Ed
6:00 am
Mon February 24, 2014

Legislation Would Block Faculty Loans

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.

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Statehouse
12:05 am
Fri February 21, 2014

Arizona Pension Case Could Chart Course for Illinois

Credit 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.

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Statehouse
8:57 am
Thu February 20, 2014

Illinois Legislation Targets 'Revenge Porn'

The now-shuttered Is Anyone Up? was an early "revenge porn" site.
Credit 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.

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Right To Remain Silent
8:23 am
Thu February 20, 2014

Should Students Get Miranda Warnings?

Credit 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."

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Election 2014
5:21 pm
Mon February 17, 2014

Cullerton Prods GOP Over 'Secret Plan' On Budget

Credit 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.

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Population Control
9:40 pm
Thu February 13, 2014

Illinois To Limit Deer Hunting Permits

Illinois plans to limit deer hunting in more than 40 counties next year. It's meant to give the deer population a chance to stabilize and grow.
Credit 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.

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Election 2014
6:33 pm
Wed February 12, 2014

Hardiman Swipes Quinn For Not Debating

Tio Hardiman
Credit 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:

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Arts
3:01 am
Mon February 10, 2014

Interview: Annie Leibovitz In Springfield

Annie Leibovitz looks at photos from her exhibit at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum in Springfield. At left are Lincoln's hat and gloves he had with him the night of his assassination.
Credit 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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Statehouse
4:58 pm
Wed February 5, 2014

Cullerton Taunts GOP Over Budget Delay

Senate President John Cullerton
Credit Illinois Senate

The campaign for governor seeped into a debate in the Illinois Senate Wednesday. It let senators get into a little partisan elbowing.

Legislators were in town for just two days of session this week, and they only passed one bill. It lets Gov. Pat Quinn delay his budget address from mid-February to the end of March. The administration says it needs the delay to continue crunching numbers.

Republicans, however — like Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale — say Quinn has something else on his mind.

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Statehouse
4:04 am
Wed February 5, 2014

Big Revenue Drop If Income Tax Rate Falls

Rep. John Bradley
Credit housedem.state.il.us

Illinois lawmakers are beginning to confront the huge hole expected in next year's state budget.
The temporary income tax increase of a few years ago is set to roll back at the end of this year. Lawmakers are being told Illinois will have $1.58 billion less to spend next year.

"The budget is going to be one of the, if not the big issue, as it generally is," said Rep. John Bradley (D-Marion).

Bradley is chairman of the House Revenue Committee.

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State of the State
6:00 am
Thu January 30, 2014

Quinn Proposes Modest Agenda; Republicans Warn of Cost

Gov. Pat Quinn speaks with reporters in this file photo.
Credit Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn delivered his sixth State of the State address Wednesday. As Brian Mackey reports, Quinn's speech was pretty much what you'd expect from a man fighting to keep his job despite some of the lowest approval ratings of any governor in America.

Quinn laid out a list of proposals that seem finely honed to appeal to Democratic voters: increasing the minimum wage, doubling a tax credit for the working poor, and requiring at least two days of sick time for all employees.

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Statehouse
6:00 am
Wed January 29, 2014

Illinois 'State Of The State' Address At Noon Today

Credit Brian Mackey/WUIS

Governor Pat Quinn gives his sixth State of the State address at noon today in Springfield. It comes in an election year that has Quinn seeking a second full term as governor.

Quinn has spent a lot of time talking about the state's pension problems in recent years. Now, with a bid for re-election on the line, he's turning to more populist issues, like an increase in the minimum wage.

Here's Quinn last month: "When we put more purchasing power in the hands of hard-working people, they're not going to admire the money in the bank vault."

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