Brian Mackey

Statehouse reporter

Brian Mackey covers state government and politics for 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.

Subscribe to Brian Mackey's State of the State podcast on WUIS' podcast page, or by copying this URL into iTunes or any other podcast app.

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/ 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.


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.


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.

Flickr user spDuchamp (Creative Commons)

Illinois has been one of the slowest states to recover from the Great Recession. But at least one analyst says things are getting better.

Illinois is no longer at immediate risk of recession, and is in fact beginning to recover. That, at least, is the assessment of economist Steve Cochrane, with Moody's Analytics.

"The housing market is picking up in Chicago," Cochrane says. "The large service- and finance-based economy in Chicago also seems to be picking a little bit, and hiring is improving."

Rita Garman
Illinois Supreme Court

The Illinois Supreme Court returns from its summer recess next week, and one of the items on the docket could be the announcement of its next chief justice. The court appears ready to name Rita Garman to the post.

Garman would be the second woman to head the Illinois Supreme Court — and in fact, only the second woman to lead one of Illinois' three branches of government.

Based in Danville, Garman has been a lawyer since 1968, a judge since 1974, and on the Supreme Court since 2002.

Gov. Pat Quinn
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Gov. Pat Quinn says he does not support an opponent's proposal to amend the Illinois Constitution.

Republican venture capitalist Bruce Rauner is not only campaigning to take Quinn's job, he's also leading an effort to change the Illinois Constitution to make it harder for lawmakers to override a governor's veto.

Illinois Supreme Court under construction
Brian Mackey/WUIS

The Illinois Supreme Court will meet in Chicago for at least the next year while the court's usual home in Springfield is undergoing a major renovation.

The $12.6 million project began this summer. Workers are completely redoing the century-old building's ventilation system, as well as restoring the historic murals that line the walls of the courtroom.

Spokesman Joe Tybor says the move to Chicago is a big change for the justices.

Statehouse exit sign
Brian Mackey/WUIS

In Springfield, the west wing of Illinois' Capitol building is nearing the end of a two-year, $50 million renovation.

Workers are putting on the finishing touches. Everywhere you look, you see a balance between modern building requirements and historical details.

The door handles are flipper style — that's easier to use for people with disabilities — but they're cast with the state seal. There are lighted emergency exit signs, of course, but they're in an old-timey font.

Flickr user AScappatura (Creative Commons)

A new law in Illinois gives pet owners a remedy if they buy a sick dog from a pet store. But the so-called puppy lemon law got us thinking: what happens to those sick puppies after they're returned to the store?

We spoke to Vicki Deisner, Midwest legislative director for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. She also talked about several other new animal-welfare laws in Illinois this year.

The ASPCA supported four such pieces of legislation that were signed into law this year:

Brian Mackey/WUIS

Thursday's unemployment numbers show Decatur is once again lagging the rest of Illinois. That long-term trend is partly responsible for a new law aimed at changing the way Illinois handles economic development.

In Decatur, 13.2 percent of job-seekers can't find work. State Sen. Andy Manar — a Democrat whose district includes Decatur — says that's part of the reason he thought it was time to blow up the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and start over.

Jim Durkin, Dwight Kay, Raymond Poe
Illinois House of Representatives

Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross on Wednesday told colleagues he would soon step down. There are a handful of lawmakers who've already set their sights on his job.

House Republicans say Cross told them he'd resign as leader in October. He reportedly didn't say what his plans are, although it's widely rumored he intends to run for state treasurer.

There are at least three men who want to lead the 47-members of the House GOP — including Reps. Jim Durkin of Western Springs and Raymond Poe of Springfield.

The Capitol
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Illinois ranks 50th among the states in the share of education funding that comes from state government. The formula used to distribute that money dates back to the '90s.

On Monday afternoon, a group of state senators began working on an update.

Democrat in a duck costume
Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

Political campaigns are gearing up for next year's elections. So, too, are political pranksters.

Congressman Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, has lately found himself being shadowed by a giant duck.

Technically it's a woman in a duck suit: "Uh, yes, it is very warm in the duck costume."

This is Nafia Khan. She and a handful of other activists are on the Illinois State Fairgrounds, holding signs that accuse Congressman Davis of "ducking" constituents. They say he's not holding any town hall meetings.

Republican meeting in Springfield
Brian Mackey/WUIS

Illinois Republicans are at a crossroads. The party has a historically small number of people in the Illinois Senate, and a small minority in the House, too. But Republicans are also hopeful about 2014, when they have the chance to win back the Illinois governor's office, ending 12 years of Democratic rule.

Party leaders and candidates rallied in Springfield Thursday at the Illinois State Fair, where the men competing for the top of the ticket each said they're uniquely qualified to revive the Illinois Republican Party.

Budgeting for Results
Brian Mackey/WUIS

An Illinois government panel trying to help the state set spending priorities is already at work on next year's budget. But after two years, the group is still waiting for the chance to make its mark on spending.

The idea behind Budgeting for Results is to focus state spending on agencies and programs that meet a list of seven priorities, like education or public safety.

But although the Budgeting for Results Commission has been meeting, taking testimony, and publishing reports for about two years, its work has yet to affect the budget.

The arrival of concealed carry in Illinois will mean a big change not only for gun-owning citizens, but police officers as well.

As Brian Mackey reports, the state board that oversees police training is already preparing for the change.

Police in Illinois are already trained on how to approach someone with a gun. Since that person was likely breaking the law, safety and caution were the watchwords. But how does that calculus change when citizens are able to carry legally?

Lincolns looking at Quinn
Brian Mackey/WUIS

The Illinois State Fair officially got underway Friday morning.

Based on the evidence Friday morning on the Illinois State Fairgrounds, it's never too early for fried mini-doughnuts.

Vendors were selling all manner of-deep fried delights, patrons were crowding parking lots, and dignitaries were cutting a red, white, and blue ribbon to mark the official opening of the 2013 fair.

Sen. Kwame Raoul
Amanda Vinicky/WUIS

A day after Illinois legislative leaders sued Governor Pat Quinn for vetoing lawmakers' salaries, the governor continued lashing out at the General Assembly for not passing a pension overhaul.

Quinn has consistently tried to portray himself as being engaged in the negotiations over pensions. But members of the legislative committee trying to come up with a compromise say that's not true.