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.

John Cullerton
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.

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.

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.

Gov. Pat Quinn
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."

Casino Queen
Paul Sableman (pasa47) via Flickr

An Illinois lawmaker is attempting to revive talks over a massive expansion of gambling in the state. The effort begins Tuesday evening at a casino in East St. Louis.

After years of effort, talks to expand gambling broke down last spring. The issue receded amid high-profile legislation dealing with pensions, concealed carry, and same-sex marriage.

Now Rep. Bob Rita, a Democrat from Blue Island, is trying to get gambling back on the front burner.

He's planning several public hearings across the state, beginning at the Casino Queen in East St. Louis.

Kirk Dillard
Hannah Meisel/WUIS

All four candidates spoke with reporters after Thursday's Republican gubernatorial debate in Peoria. Here's what they had to say:

Illinois Public Broadcasters

The four men competing for the Republican nomination for governor met in Peoria last night. They were participating in a live debate broadcast on public radio and television stations across Illinois. There were no big blow-ups or arguments. In fact, the candidates seem to agree on a lot of policy issues.

That left each man making the case for why he thinks he's in the best position to be the first Republican elected governor since 1998.

Bruce Rauner
Brian Mackey/WUIS

The Illinois State Board of Elections is putting a stop to a practice that's allowed political campaigns to hide some of their spending.

This is a story of new technology coming under the purview of older campaign finance laws.

At least two major candidates this year have been paying staff through outside payroll companies: Democrat Mike Frerichs, who's running for treasurer, uses ADP; and Republican Bruce Rauner, running for governor, uses Paylocity.*

Dick Durbin
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin continues to push for an extension of unemployment benefits. He says it’ll be the first priority when the U.S. Senate reconvenes next week.

Durbin says 83,000 Illinoisans lost unemployment benefits on January first.

Brian Mackey/WUIS

An elderly woman convicted in a notorious murder case is asking the governor to let her out of prison. At a hearing on the matter Wednesday in Springfield, family and friends of the victim were uniformly opposed.

Shirley Skinner is just a few years into her 55-year sentence. A jury convicted her of murdering her granddaughter's estranged husband, Steven Watkins, shooting him in the back of the head. He had come to their house in Ashland to visit his daughter.

Brian Mackey / WUIS

As we get ready to welcome 2014, we thought we’d take a few minutes to reflect on some of the voices in the news this past year in Illinois state politics and government. People in the Capitol were busy with same-sex marriage, medical marijuana, and dozens of other issues. What follows are a few of the more memorable moments.

Gov. Pat Quinn: “This is no small issue. This is a choice about whether we will make the tough decisions necessary to balance our budget by reforming our public pension systems."

Bluetooth headset
Flickr user DeclanTM (Creative Commons)

Jan. 1 brings a new Illinois law that limits talking on the phone while driving. It's often been referred to as "cell phone ban." But it's actually a bit more nuanced.

The law starts out by saying you cannot drive while using an electronic device such as a phone or laptop. But it's not that cut-and-dry. For example, you can place a call if it only requires pressing one button.

SIRI: *ding*
MACKEY: Siri, can you make a call for me?
SIRI: "With whom would you like to speak?"
MACKEY: How about Illinois State Police spokeswoman Monique Bond?

IDOT

Beginning Jan. 1, the maximum speed limit in Illinois will increase to 70 miles an hour. But you might want to hold off on the throttle for at least a few weeks.

While the new 70 mph law technically goes into effect at midnight on New Year's Day, it's going to take the Illinois Department of Transportation a little while to get all the new speed limit signs put up. Until then, IDOT spokeswoman Paris Earvin says, "We really encourage motorists to obey the posted speed limits."

Earthrise
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.

Illinois Supreme Court
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.

Eric Guitar Davis
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.

teacher
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.

Mark Kirk
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.

Speaker Michael Madigan
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.

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.

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.  

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.

Bruce Rauner
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.

Bishop Thomas Paprocki meets the press
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.

Lincoln Hollinsaid
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.

Chase Tower
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.

Mike Webster
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.

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.

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.

Dan Rutherford in Press Room
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.

Pages