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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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.

Hemophilia.org

A court hearing scheduled Tuesday has the potential to shake up the precarious financial situation in Illinois. Organizations that run the state’s Medicaid program want a federal judge to speed up their payments.

The state already owes money to  a variety of organizations due to the budget impasse, but Medicaid providers want a federal judge to put them at the front of the line. Comptroller Susana Mendoza said Illinois already spends heavily on Medicaid, and letting those groups cut in line means Illinois would soon run out of money.

Flickr User Ken Teegardin/Flickr CC by SA 2.0

One day after the Illinois General Assembly ended its spring session without passing a budget, two bond-rating agencies have downgraded the state’s credit. The actions by S&P Global Ratings and Moody's Investors Service leave state government debt just one step above “junk” status.

S&P says Illinois is at risk of a negative credit spiral because of what it calls "unrelenting political brinkmanship." This means the agencies think there’s a real possibility state government could run out of cash and default on its debt.

The Illinois General Assembly ended its annual legislative session Wednesday night without agreeing on a budget.

Top Democrats and Republicans blamed each other, reflecting the main political divide in Springfield for more than two years. But this year's budget failure exposed an additional set of fault lines -- among Democrats.

The Senate spent much of the past five months in bipartisan negotiations — attempting to strike a "grand bargain" that both satisfied Gov. Bruce Rauner's economic agenda and adequately funded Illinois government.

State of Illinois

Today was the last day of the annual legislative session in the state capitol. It also happens to be the 700th day since Illinois last had a real budget.
Democrats – who hold a majority in both chambers of the General Assembly -- still aren’t saying whether they plan to do anything about that.
This is third year in which House Democrats have put themselves in this same position: going up to the end of session without a clear path on the budget.

House Democrats are trying to decide whether to raise income taxes and broaden the sales tax.  Their counterparts in the Senate voted for these changes last week. 

Late Monday afternoon, the House committee that deals with tax matters gave preliminary approval to the Senate plan. Chairman Mike Zalewski, D-Riverside, wasn't sure whether it would break the current budget impasse. 

“I wouldn’t go that far,” he said. “I think we’re closer to having a robust discussion about revenue options.”

That robust discussion, Zalewski added, is long overdue.

Illinois Senate Democrats made another attempt Friday to satisfy the demands of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s economic agenda.

The Republican governor has said the expense of workers' compensation insurance has driven businesses out of the state.

Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, sponsored legislation meant to bring costs down.

"I know workers' comp. I’ve practiced workers' comp on behalf of employers," he said during debate. "This, if implemented right, will save employers money, and I urge an aye vote."

Flickr user Pictures of Money / "Money" (CC BY 2.0)

Illinois lawmakers heard from Board of Elections officials and administrators of state universities Sunday about the consequences of not passing a budget. 

Computers at the Board of Elections are used to track voter registration, campaign donations, and which candidates are running for which offices.  Information Technology Director Kevin Turner said the board doesn't have enough working personal computers to handle candidate filings later this year.  

 "We seriously do not have enough equipment to get that done right now,” he said.

"P1070904_DxO" by Flickr User Selka / (CC X 2.0)

Illinois Democrats are asking Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration for more information about state leases of private warehouses.

The Senate Appropriations Committee questioned agency directors Thursday over decisions to lease property instead of using existing state buildings to store records.

Illinois U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin says talk of impeaching President Donald Trump is premature.

That's at odds with positions taken last week by at least three of the Democrats running for governor in Illinois.

Brian Mackey

The Illinois Senate has adjourned for the day without taking action on remaining items from the "grand bargain" budget compromise.

Democrats who run the chamber had said they might push forward Thursday with remaining items after approving several parts of the compromise on Wednesday.

But what remains are some of the tougher measures. One would increase the personal income tax from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent and the corporate rate from 5.25 percent to 7 percent.

Just over two weeks remain in the Illinois General Assembly’s spring legislative session. Lawmakers haven’t passed a full budget in more than two years.

And there are serious doubts about whether they’ll extend or break the streak before the session is scheduled to end May 31.

That would mean Democrats satisfying Gov. Bruce Rauner’s business and political agenda and Republicans agreeing on a series of tax hikes to begin stabilizing state finances.

Senate Democrats attempted a series of test votes on items in the so-called “grand bargain;” but Republicans refused to go along, saying more negotiation is needed to reach a deal they can support.

Senate President John Cullerton says his Democrats have gone as far as they can go in meeting Gov. Bruce Rauner’s non-budget demands and charged that Rauner and his team “don’t know how to govern.”

Former governor Pat Quinn was back in the Illinois Statehouse Monday. The Democrat was there for a ceremony to unveil his official portrait in the Capitol’s Hall of Governors.

Illinois U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin is putting his heart into attacking the Republican health care bill — literally.

Durbin is citing his own recent cardiac procedure to point out what he and other Democrats say are flaws in the legislation.

Brian Mackey/NPR Illinois

The Illinois budget stalemate has held up compensation for people who’ve been unjustly imprisoned. But a bipartisan group of state senators took a step toward fixing that Thursday.

James Kluppelberg spent nearly 25 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. But freedom presented its own challenges.

DCFS

The head of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is defending the decision to leave a toddler in a Joliet Township house where she was later found dead. George Sheldon answered questions about the incident at a State Senate hearing Wednesday in Springfield.

One-year-old Semaj Crosby was found dead under a couch last Thursday. Her mother had reported her missing a couple of days earlier. Just before that, the family had been visited by a caseworker from DCFS.

Jenna Dooley / WNIJ

Illinois Senate Democrats are hoping to win bipartisan support for a partial government spending plan.

 

The proposal would release more than $800 million that’s been collected in special state accounts for higher education and human services — neither of which has been fully funded since summer 2015.

 

Those areas have been particularly squeezed during the 22-month budget stalemate.

 

"Metra" By Flickr User Chris Phan / (CC BY 2.0)

Downstate mass transit services have been hit hard by the Illinois budget stalemate. Lawmakers are now looking to remove them from the fight.

Downstate transit is funded in part through city and county sales taxes. Before that money can be spent, it passes through state government. That means transit agencies have to wait in a long line to get paid.

Illinois is more than $11 billion dollars behind.

State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, is sponsoring legislation that essentially would pull downstate transit out of line, sending them tax money directly.

WILL

An Illinois Republican Senator with a no-tax-hike budget plan is pushing Gov. Bruce Rauner to get on board.

State Sen. Kyle McCarter of Lebanon is one of the few legislators of either party who says Illinois can solve its budget problems without raising taxes. His proposal includes a 10 percent reduction across state government — the sort of deep cut that could alter the services Illinois provides to its citizens dramatically.

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton says he and his colleagues will take up a partial government spending bill passed by the House earlier this month.

The minimum wage, abortion rights, and the state budget were among the rallying points for women marching on the Illinois Statehouse Tuesday. The event put liberal issues — and Democratic candidates — front and center.

Women from across Illinois are expected in Springfield today for a march and rally at the Statehouse.

The event is drawing a long list of Democratic officials and activists. Senate President John Cullerton and other state politicians will be joined by three gubernatorial candidates and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Jessie Schlacks / WNIJ

Two Illinois State Senators are pushing to fight what they say is discrimination in car-insurance pricing.

The effort follows an investigation by Consumer Reports and ProPublica that found people in minority neighborhoods pay up to 30 percent more than drivers in white areas, even when they have the same accident risk.

Tanya Watkins is with the Chicago activist group SOUL — Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation.

Illinois’ population losses are frequently cited in debates over the state’s tax rates and business laws.
Last year, Census figures show it was tied for the greatest rate of people leaving the state.

But Sarah Crane, with Moody’s Analytics, says a federal immigration crackdown could make it even worse.

"Any policies that severely curtail immigration will hurt the state's population growth even more than expected, in addition to labor force growth.”

M. Spencer Green/AP

The Illinois Senate approved legislation meant to address record gun violence in Chicago.

It's intended to push judges into imposing longer prison sentences on repeat gun offenders.
It passed on a vote of 35 to 9, but several legislators voted “present” — or didn’t vote at all.

Democrat Jackie Collins of Chicago, says “locking up more people is not the solution to gun violence.”

“What is needed is economic development, police reform, and stopping the flow of illegal guns in communities ravaged by deep concentrations of poverty and hopelessness.”

State of Illinois

Illinois has entered its 22nd month without a real budget. Among the state services most affected by the political fight are those that help victims of domestic violence.

Illinois doesn’t spend a lot of money fighting domestic violence — it’s way less than a tenth of a percent of the state budget. But since last summer, it’s spent nothing.

Vickie Smith represents 62 providers across Illinois. She says some groups have laid people off; others are about to.

"170 - Typing" by Flickr User Hillary / (CC X 2.0)

Two bills meant to expand internet privacy rights cleared procedural hurdles in the Illinois House.  

Chicago Democratic Rep. Art Turner Jr., says he wants to make it easier to find out what kind of information companies collect. He says that’s particularly important since President Trump and Republicans in Congress are scaling back federal protections.

“Illinois is in a unique position now to provide privacy rights and that protection for consumers here," Turner says.

Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

A group of rank-and-file Democratic state lawmakers unveiled the “Comeback Agenda.”  It's a response to Republican Governor Bruce Rauner's "Turnaround Agenda," which was proposed two years ago.  

Democratic State Sen. Don Harmon says the measure grew out of frustration with the fighting and lack of progress in Springfield.

“We wanted to be for something. We wanted to outline a vision of where Illinois could go,” he says.

It’s been two years since Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner unveiled his Republican “Turnaround Agenda.” On Wednesday, a group of rank-and-file Democratic legislators responded with their own “Comeback Agenda.”

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