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.

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.

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.

Rahm Emanuel
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.

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.

Gov. Pat Quinn
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.

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.

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.

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.

Lincoln movie
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.

Rep. Lou Lang
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.

Sue at the Field Museum
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.

The Capitol
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.

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.

WBEZ

Illinois is continuing to deal with the effects of the federal government shutdown. The state agency that handles unemployment says hundreds of laid-off federal workers have to pay back their benefits.

During the shutdown, the Illinois Department of Employment Security had a significant spike in calls from laid off federal workers. A few thousand applied for benefits, and 577 ultimately collected money.

Illinois Supreme Court Building
Illinois Supreme Court

The Illinois Supreme Court on Friday struck down the so-called "Amazon tax." The decision could pave the way for businesses to make more money online.

The law was intended to force Internet retailers to collect Illinois sales tax.

Even if such companies didn't have an office or physical store here, they might have had Illinois "affiliates." That would be a website that linked to a product on, say, Amazon.com, and got a small kickback for every sale.

Treasurer Dan Rutherford
Brian Mackey/WUIS

With the federal shutdown over and a government default averted, investors are breathing a sigh of relief Thursday. That includes the people responsible for investing billions of dollars on behalf of Illinois state government.

The state of Illinois has about $10 billion in investments. That money is the responsibility of Treasurer Dan Rutherford, who says about $1.2 billion of Illinois' portfolio is in the form of U.S. Treasury Bills.

Scottie Pippen
Steve Lipofsky/Basketballphoto.com via Wikimedia Commons

Next week, Illinois lawmakers could consider mandatory prison sentences for people charged with illegal gun possession. Supporters say it would help reduce violent crime in places like Chicago and East St. Louis. But a prominent gun-rights group is opposed to the change.

In places where shootings are a big problem, some politicians and prosecutors want a three-year minimum sentence for gun crimes.

But the National Rifle Association worries lawful gun owners could be caught up under the proposal.

Illinois has agreed to pay more for in-state Amtrak trains. The deal prevents a shutdown of rail service that could have happened as early as next week.

Illinois is the second-to-last state to reach an agreement with Amtrak.

The deal was necessary because of a federal law that requires states to pay more if they want to keep shorter-distance rail lines.

Some states, like California, will pay millions of extra dollars.

Gov. Pat Quinn
Brian Mackey/WUIS

When lawmakers return to Springfield for their fall session later this month, they'll be weighing requests from several international companies that want tax breaks for keeping their headquarters in Illinois. But Gov. Pat Quinn is throwing cold water on that idea.

Most of the tax-credit attention has gone to agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland Company, which wants up to $24 million keep its global head office in Illinois. But lawmakers have also heard requests from Zurich Insurance, based in Schaumburg, and OfficeMax, based in Naperville, and there are others.

ADM

As Archer Daniels Midland plans to move its headquarters out of Decatur, state lawmakers are considering whether to award tax breaks to keep the agribusiness giant in Illinois.

At a legislative hearing in Chicago, representatives of ADM told lawmakers they wanted incentives worth $1.2 million a year for up to 20 years. In return, the company would keep its headquarters in Illinois, likely in Chicago.

One lawmakers says it's "essentially blackmailing the state."

Jim Lewis
Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

The federal government shutdown means public servants across Illinois will be sent home today.

At times like these, National Parks are considered a luxury, so Springfield's Lincoln Home National Historic Site would be closed. But air traffic control and weather forecasting are considered critical, so they'd keep going.

Public safety jobs are supposed to be exempt, too. But U.S. Attorney Jim Lewis, the top federal prosecutor for Central Illinois, says he'll have to send a quarter of his attorneys home and a majority of the support staff.

Lincoln Home
Brian Mackey/WUIS

The historic home of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield would be among the victims of a federal shutdown Monday night.

During a shutdown, the federal government makes all kinds of decisions about what's considered an essential government function.

Air traffic control and National Weather Service forecasts are essential. National parks are not. Which is why the Lincoln Home National Historic Site is on the block.

Gov. Pat Quinn
Brian Mackey/WUIS

A judge says Governor Pat Quinn went too far this summer when he blocked paychecks for Illinois lawmakers.

Members of the General Assembly have missed two paydays so far, and it's not clear when they'll get their money. The governor stands by his actions, saying it's his best option for cajoling the General Assembly into overhauling the state's pension systems. Quinn says he plans to appeal.

Gov. Pat Quinn
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Many of Illinois' top Democrats met in Springfield Sunday to pick a slate of statewide candidates. Although several politicians had considered challenging Gov. Pat Quinn in next year's primary, they all backed off by the time of Sunday's meeting.

From the tone at Sunday's meeting, you'd never know a week before, Quinn was facing a tough primary fight. But then Bill Daley dropped out.

You'd also never know Quinn has spent months berating state lawmakers over guns and pensions.

You'd never know it because Quinn was unanimously endorsed for re-election.

Illinois Supreme Court
Brian Mackey / WUIS

Retired state workers who collect pensions in Illinois started paying health insurance premiums this summer. That's because of a change in the law last year — previously health insurance was free for anyone who retired with at least 20 years of service.

A number of retirees sued over the change. The case was argued Wednesday before the Illinois Supreme Court.

A few months ago, Illinois began collecting one percent of pension income from retirees who are eligible for Medicare, two percent from those who aren't.

Paul Schimpf
Schimpf campaign photo

Attorney General Lisa Madigan beat her last opponent by more than a million votes. Her decision to run for re-election next year scared away most of the people who'd been eyeing her job. But at least one Republican is throwing his hat in the ring.

flickr/meeshpants

More and more prisoners in Illinois are being served brunch, eating two meals a day instead of three. Prison officials say it's actually better for many inmates.

Feeding prisoners is a lot of work — not only cooking and cleaning up, but moving inmates from cells or dorms over to the mess hall.

Illinois Department of Corrections spokesman Tom Shaer says at some prisons, breakfast is served at 4 a.m., which means moving inmates in the dark.

Gov. Pat Quinn
Brian Mackey/WUIS

The Democratic Party of Illinois says it'll meet later this month to consider slating statewide candidates in next year's election. But at least one of those candidates thinks its a bad idea.

It's been rare for the state Democratic Party to get involved in recent primary elections. That makes the announcement of the meeting something of a surprise.

Democratic Party chairman Mike Madigan — you may also know him as speaker of the Illinois House — says the meeting will give the candidates an opportunity to "convey the strengths they bring to the ticket."

Illinois Supreme Court Building
Illinois Supreme Court

Illinois' old law banning the concealed carry of firearms took another hit Thursday. A federal court already found it unconstitutional last year. Now the Illinois Supreme Court has taken the same position.

Alberto Aguilar was 17 when Chicago police arrested him for having a loaded handgun with the serial number scratched off.

He was convicted of unlawfully possessing a firearm and sentenced to 24 months probation.

Illinois Supreme Court
Brian Mackey / WUIS

The Illinois Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday in case that asks whether the Hartney Fuel Oil Company went too far in trying to secure a lower tax rate for its product.

Harney sells gas to big transportation companies — railroads, trucking firms, that sort of thing.

Until 2008, you could have been forgiven for thinking Hartney was based in Forest View, in Cook County. After all, the company had a building there where all of its employees worked.

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