Brian Mackey

Brian Mackey covers state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. He was previously A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.

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Environmental groups are criticizing Ameren Illinois for what they describe as backing away from energy efficiency goals.

Carl Nelson / WNIJ

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner is rejecting calls for a state-level immigrants’ bill of rights.

It came a day after President Donald Trump announced he’s ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which deferred deportation proceedings for certain young undocumented immigrants. On Wednesday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called on Rauner to protect those so-called dreamers by establishing a bill of rights. But Rauner said it’s a federal issue.

mikefrerichs.com

The Illinois state treasurer is urging legislators to override one of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s recent vetoes. Democrat Mike Frerichs says the override is needed to help people claim life insurance benefits. 

The Democrat is pushing legislation that would force life insurance companies to open up more than a decade’s worth of records, looking for unclaimed policies. Frerichs claimed many of the policies in question were issued in poor neighborhoods on the hopes that beneficiaries would never collect.

With Labor Day parades stepping off across Illinois today, Democratic politicians are thinking about how to win back the once-solid support of union members.

Illinois State Senator Bill Brady formally became the Illinois Senate Republican leader Tuesday. He's been acting as minority leader since Sen. Christine Radogno resigned at the end of June.

Yesterday, after passing the education funding overhaul, the Senate finally voted to make it official. Brady leads the smallest caucus in the General Assembly, and Democrats have a veto-proof majority in the Senate.

Jenna Dooley

Illinois lawmakers are continuing to leave the General Assembly. So far this year, 19 state senators and representatives have retired, announced plans to run for another office, or said they won’t seek re-election.

Among them is Steve Andersson of Geneva, who says he’s tired of what he calls “intolerance” in his Republican Party. Speaking on the public television program Chicago Tonight, he pointed to a recent House vote on whether to name a highway after former president Barack Obama.

Brian Mackey/NPR Illinois

Illinois Republicans are gearing up for Gov. Bruce Rauner’s re-election fight. At a State Fair rally Wednesday, they made clear their campaign will focus on one man.

Rauner and other Republicans have spent years — and millions of dollars — demonizing Michael Madigan, the Democratic speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives. Heading into the 2018 election, they’re hoping to realize a dividend from that investment.

"We cannot give in to Madigan and his Chicago agenda any longer,” said Tim Schneider, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party.

Jenna Dooley / WNIJ

Schools are still waiting on their main payment from Illinois government, as Democrats and Republicans continue to fight over how to divvy up the money.

The state Senate has announced it’ll take up the matter Sunday, but Illinois already missed a deadline.

That came and went Thursday, when state Comptroller Susana Mendoza said for the first time in Illinois history, her office could not send schools their first round of funding.

Brian Mackey/NPR Illinois

Part of the recently passed state budget calls for borrowing to pay down more than $14 billion in outstanding bills — saving the state millions in late payment penalties.

But Gov. Rauner has to start that process, and this week he cast doubt on whether he will.

“More borrowing, in and of itself, is not the answer," Rauner told reporters Monday.

Those overdue bills were a big factor in why many Republicans defied Rauner to help Democrats pass the budget.

Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights, points to the $800 million in penalties accumulated by the state. 

File Photo by Brian Mackey/NPR Illinois

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza is urging Gov. Bruce Rauner to step up the pace in dealing with the state’s debt.

She’s urging him to borrow money — authorized by the new budget — in order to begin paying off more than $14 billion dollars in overdue bills.

"You should know that this debt is costing you, the taxpayer, $2 million a day, at up to 12 percent interest in late-payment interest penalties," Mendoza said Monday in a video posted online.

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza is calling on Gov. Bruce Rauner to take a more active role in paying down the state’s unpaid bills.

Illinois's new budget authorizes the state to issue bonds to begin paying down its debts, but that process has to start with Rauner’s budget office.

Mendoza, a Democrat, basically said the Republican administration is dragging its feet.

“Every day that goes by without the capital from the new bonds being issued is costing taxpayers an additional $2 million a day," she said.

Katherine Johnson/ CC By 2.0 / Flickr

Years of budget cuts and deferred maintenance at the Illinois State Fair have led to a series of problems at the fairgrounds. But officials say they’ll be ready when the fair opens in one week.

State Fair manager Kevin Gordon didn't mince words: “Honestly, the last year and half has been challenging," he said. "OK? I’ll be the first to say it.”

Several Democrats running for governor of Illinois are proposing the state enact universal healthcare.

J.B. Pritzker is the latest to bring out a plan. He wants to let anyone buy into the Medicaid program, which is currently limited to the poor, elderly and disabled. 

However, two other Democratic candidates said Pritzker's plan doesn't go far enough. State Sen. Daniel Biss of Evanston and Chicago Ald. Ameya Pawar said Illinois should create its own single-payer plan. That’s where all healthcare is paid for by the government, instead of private insurance. 

Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Illinois is making good on some of its most overdue bills: compensating people who were unjustly imprisoned.

When prisoners have done their time, Illinois gives them “gate money” — enough for a bus ride home. But no such courtesy is offered to people who are freed after a wrongful conviction.

“I had $14 and I believe 70-some cents on my prison account at the time,” said James Kluppelberg, who spent 25 years in prison for someone else’s crimes. “They handed that to me, and they opened the door and they said: ‘Leave.’”

Talk Radio News Service

Anyone who’s ever listened to a Chicago traffic report knows the names — Edens, Eisenhower, Stevenson, Ryan. Now, an addition: the Barack Obama Presidential Expressway.

That’s the official designation for Interstate 55, from I-294 in the Chicago suburbs south to mile marker 202, near the City of Pontiac. State Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, said it’s a route the former state Senator would be familiar with.

“President Obama traveled 55 on his way to Springfield," said Ford. 

Brian Mackey/NPR Illinois

Illinois’ two-year budget impasse is over. The House of Representatives on Thursday overrode the governor's budget veto, giving final approval to a spending plan and tax increase.

After two years of stalemate, more than a dozen Republicans broke with Gov. Bruce Rauner.

They joined Democrats to pass a $5-billion dollar tax increase.

The governor had been holding out for his business-friendly agenda, but some Republicans, like Rep. David Harris, from Arlington Heights, say time’s up.

Two bond rating agencies say Illinois is on the right path with the budget plan passed Sunday in the state House of Representatives.

Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Illinois Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno is stepping down, effective Saturday. That’s the first day of the new Illinois budget year -- which would be the third without a real budget unless she and other legislative leaders cut a deal.

Radogno was behind the secret bipartisan attempt at compromise that became known as the “grand bargain.” She says she’d hoped to be able to resign after getting it passed.

Springfield’s top political leaders are continuing to meet in private as the clock runs down on Illinois’ budget year.

The House and Senate leaders — Democratic and Republican — went all year without sitting down together. That changed Sunday, and they've been meeting regularly since. They also have been coming out and holding news conferences to complain about each other — until yesterday, when they went quiet.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin gave a brief comment in the Statehouse rotunda.

Illinois Democrats took another step in budget negotiations Tuesday, proposing a spending plan for state government.

House Speaker Michael Madigan acknowledged it won’t meet every request of Gov. Bruce Rauner.

“But I think that it goes a long way toward giving the state of Illinois a good solid spending plan that responds to the real needs of the state," he said, "and, significantly, is below the level of the governor’s introduced budget."

Brian Mackey/NPR Illinois

The top Democrats and Republicans of the Illinois General Assembly met Sunday for the first time this year, and there are some signs of progress.

House Speaker Michael Madigan has consistently objected to Gov. Bruce Rauner making his political and economic agenda a prerequisite for passing a budget. At Sunday's meeting, Madigan said Republicans were still talking about what he calls “off-budget” issues. That, he said, “prompted me to add items to the off-budget list.”

Illinois Office of Information and Communications

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner is attempting to frame the debate heading into Wednesday's special session of the General Assembly.

Rauner delivered a video message Tuesday night from the Old State Capitol Historic Site. It lasted three minutes, and was timed so it could be carried live on the evening news.

“Right now, our state is in real crisis,” Rauner said, "and the actions we take in the days ahead will determine how history remembers us."

Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has called state legislators back to Springfield this week to begin 10 special sessions through the end of June.

 

He says he wants a budget deal, but he also is spending money attacking Democrats. The attacks have come in at least three forms: online ads, direct mail, and TV commercials.

 

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Illinois’ struggling social-service agencies lost another round in court Thursday.

An appellate panel in Chicago said Illinois does not have to pay unless the state has a real budget. A three-judge panel unanimously rejected all of the human service providers' claims.

They tried to say Gov. Bruce Rauner exceeded his authority by signing contracts for their work, and then turning around and vetoing money out of the budget to pay them.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan argued in court Tuesday that paying state employees removes “any imperative” for Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly to “fulfill their basic constitutional obligations ... and resolve their budget impasse.”

Madigan is trying to halt state employee paychecks. She said only the General Assembly can approve state spending, which means Illinois does not have the legal authority to make payroll.

Jenna Dooley / WNIJ

The cases involve two groups: one which has been getting paid; and another which hasn’t, but wants to.

Today's case before the appellate court in Mount Vernon, involves state employees. Lawyers from Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office are arguing against a ruling that said these workers must be paid. 

Normally, their salaries must be appropriated by the legislature; when that didn’t happen in 2015, the AFSCME union convinced a judge to order that the payments be made.

Rauner Signs Bill Reforming Bail Procedure

Jun 12, 2017

A new law in Illinois will make it easier for lower-income individuals charged with violations to be released while awaiting trial.

The bill was signed Friday by Gov. Bruce Rauner and took effect immediately.

Until now, bail in Illinois often came down to money. An accused person who had it could be released while waiting for a court date. But those without funds would spend that time locked up. Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said people should only be in jail if they’re dangerous or a flight risk.

Members of the Illinois House heard stories yesterday of misery resulting from nearly two years without a state budget. Democrats used the opportunity to attack Gov. Bruce Rauner.

The message came from people with drug addiction, domestic-violence counselors, and parents of disabled children — like Kathy Hansen of Elmhurst.

“We are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and family members who can’t sleep at night because the state has virtually abandoned our loved ones,” she said.

Flickr user Daniel Borman / "Money, Money, Money" (CC BY 2.0)

Illinois is nearing the start of a third fiscal year without a budget. This has resulted in a backlog of unpaid bills, and unfavorable judgment by credit agencies.

 

As of last week, the state owes an outstanding $14.5 billion, and only $18 million is available to make payments.  State Comptroller Susana Mendoza said a court case asking healthcare organizations to be paid first may push the state to the breaking point.  

Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

The Illinois House blocked Governor Bruce Rauner’s attempt to merge the parts of state government that deal with discrimination complaints.

In Illinois, discrimination is investigated by the Department of Human Rights. Then, the cases are judged by the independent Human Rights Commission.

Earlier this year, Governor Bruce Rauner issued an executive order to combine the functions. The Republican says the two-step process is inefficient.

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