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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The General Assembly finished its legislative session shortly after midnight Saturday, approving a billion-dollar road construction program.

Democrats started the session with an ambitious agenda: raise the minimum wage, boost college assistance for low-income students, maybe even change Illinois' flat tax into a graduated one. In the end, none of that happened.

The Illinois General Assembly is winding down its spring legislative session Friday, and could wrap up a day ahead of Saturday's scheduled adjournment. Observers say just a few big issues remain.

Two months after Governor Pat Quinn laid out his vision for Illinois' budget, the House of Representatives has approved a state spending plan. Quinn presented two options: make 2011's temporary tax hike permanent, or make steep cuts across government. Lawmakers considered those options and chose ... neither.

Quinn has been clear about the potential consequences of letting Illinois' income tax rate drop, as it's scheduled to do at the end of the year.

Brian Mackey / Illinois Public Radio

Illinois House members went from “doomsday” to “middle-of-the-road” when they approved a scaled-back budget for 2015. 

House Speaker Michael Madigan wants voters to weigh in on his so-called "millionaires' tax" at the November elections.

The referendum would ask if income greater than a million dollars should be taxed an additional three percent, with the money going to schools.

Earlier this year, Madigan tried to put this before voters as a constitutional amendment, but he says there wasn't enough support in the House.

Gov. Pat Quinn appealed directly to Democrats in the Illinois House Monday evening. He’s struggling to win support for his plan to extend Illinois’ higher income tax rate.

The governor appeared at a closed meeting of the Illinois House Democratic caucus.

Quinn is trying to win the support of the 60 Democrats required to make Illinois’ 5 percent income-tax rate permanent — instead of letting it decline by more than a percentage point as scheduled at the end of the year. Quinn warns without the higher tax rate, there will have to be drastic cuts in state services.

Illinois House Democrats are assembling a budget plan for state government. But a big piece of the puzzle is being left out.

The plan makes it seem obvious House Democrats have heeded Gov. Pat Quinn's call to keep the income tax rate at 5 percent. Except they won't actually say that out loud.

Rep. Greg Harris of Chicago typified the coyness.

"This always comes own to the last couple weeks," he says, "and we have to look at different sources of revenue. We have to look at: Do we add here? Do we cut there?"

An Illinois lawmakers is trying to change state law so car dealers can be open on Sundays. But he's facing long odds.

When Sen. Jim Oberweis, from Sugar Grove, learned it was against the law for a car dealer to be open on Sunday, his Republican instincts kicked in.

Jury duty could soon be open to people who are not fluent in the English language. The Illinois Senate today approved a pilot program to provide translators for jurors.

Illinois law currently says jurors must be able to "understand the English language." This proposal would allow jurors who speak other languages to have interpreters.

It's the idea of Dan Locallo, a retired Cook County judge.

Illinois officials are remembering the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust. An annual ceremony took place Thursday in Springfield's Old State Capitol.

Praying: "Y'hey sh'lama raba min sh'ma-ya ..."

The ceremony included the Kaddish — a Jewish prayer of mourning. Gov. Pat Quinn and other officials spoke. Then a survivor shared her story.

Illinois lawmakers continue to hear dire scenarios for the state budget if they do not vote to extend the five-percent income tax rate. The latest threatened cuts include the entire state Capitol Police force.

The Capitol Police Department was established less than 10 years ago, after a deranged man shot and killed an unarmed security officer.

The shooting led to the installation of metal detectors and x-ray machines, and hiring sworn, armed law enforcement personnel.

A former state official has agreed to pay a record $100,000 fine to settle charges he violated a state ethics law. Barry Maram is accused of going to work for a state contractor a week after he left his job as director of Healthcare and Family Services.

Maram was HFS director from the earliest days of the Blagojevich administration through April 2010.

Gov. Pat Quinn on Monday signed legislation intended to lower the cost of leasing a car in Illinois. Backers of the law say far fewer people lease in Illinois than in surrounding states.

After more than two years of trying, Illinois has finally won a waiver from the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind. Brian Mackey reports on what this means for schools in Illinois.

  The short answer is not much.

Illinois has already been moving beyond the No Child Left Behind law for some time, even as it waited for permission from the federal government.

Matt Vanover, a spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Education, says there were problems with No Child Left Behind.

It's been a few years since Congressional "earmarks" were eliminated from federal transportation spending. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin says it's time to bring them back.

Earmarks have a bad name — remember the "bridge to nowhere," a plan to spend nearly $400 million on a bridge to an island in Alaska with 50 residents?

Durbin says earmarks should have been reformed, not eliminated. He says legislators are in touch with the transportation needs of their districts and states.

The Illinois Senate has joined a push for a national constitutional convention. Organizers say they want to change the way political campaigns are financed.

A major credit rating agency says the next two months will be "critical" for the future of Illinois' finances. The key question is whether to make a temporary tax hike permanent.

Like most of the big credit rating agencies, Standard & Poor's has been bearish on Illinois finances — lowering the state's credit rating four times in recent years.

A new report (PDF) says Illinois' pension overhaul will save less money than advertised. Some politicians are trying to make hay out of that. But it might not be such a big deal.

The pension vote came with promises of big savings — $160 billion. Then, after it was already law, a new analysis of the bill said, well, maybe we'll save $145 billion.

This latest report puts savings even lower, at $137 billion.

The election returns in yesterday’s Illinois primary were not even in before the candidates for governor started attacking each other. Republicans chose wealthy investor Bruce Rauner to take on Democratic incumbent Pat Quinn. Brian Mackey looks at the surprisingly close election results, and what’s ahead for the campaign.

Illinois' economy has been topic A among the men seeking the Republican nomination for governor. Getting far less attention are social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage. For a party whose rough primaries have often been compared to “circular firing squads,” the lack of focus on the topic is unusual. Brian Mackey looks at what’s behind the social silence.

Illinois' primary election is less than two weeks away. The four men seeking the Republican nomination for governor agree on a lot of topics. But there is an issue in which one of the candidates has distinguished himself: government-employee unions. Brian Mackey takes us inside the debate over whether government workers ought to be able to negotiate over their jobs.

You don’t have to spend a lot of time listening to investor Bruce Rauner to know where he stands on public-sector unions. The disdain drips from a three word phrase he uses again and again and again:

A group of lawmakers is challenging the broad powers enjoyed by Illinois' conservation police officers. At issue is whether the officers can operate on private land without a warrant.

Illinois law lets conservation police enter "all lands and waters" to enforce the Wildlife Code. The idea is, even if you have a huge private forest, you’re not allowed to, say, shoot a deer out of season.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Kirk Dillard got the endorsement of a retired group of teachers Wednesday. But he’s still lagging front-runner Bruce Rauner, who continues to tap his significant personal fortune for his campaign.

An audit Tuesday criticized an anti-violence program Governor Pat Quinn pushed during his 2010 election campaign.Republicans wasted no time in calling for an investigation.

The non-partisan audit (PDF) says the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative was "hastily implemented" and did not use standard financial safeguards.

The Illinois House took a key first step in the state budgeting process Tuesday.

It adopted what's called a "revenue estimate" — how much money Illinois is expected to be able to spend in the next fiscal year.

A court case decided in Arizona Thursday could have implications for Illinois' ongoing legal battle over pensions. The decision (pdf), by the Arizona Supreme Court, struck down an attempt to reduce Arizona officials' retirement benefits.

The top Democrat in the Illinois Senate on Monday went on the offensive over state spending. Senate President John Cullerton is calling out the Republicans running for governor.

Cullerton laid out the hits expected in next year's budget, including the roll back of the income tax hike and mandatory spending increases on things like personnel and healthcare for the poor. Add it up, Cullerton says, and it's a nearly $3 billion hole.

Efforts to reduce the number of deer in Illinois have been so successful that the state plans to reduce the number of hunting permits this year.

Illinois already met its goal of reducing the deer population statewide a few years ago. But some counties still had herds deemed problematic — causing car accidents and crop damage.

Now, in more than 40 counties, officials at the Department of Natural Resources want to see the number of deer go up by anywhere from one to 29 percent.

  Democratic candidate for governor Tio Hardiman is lashing out at incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn for refusing to debate in the run-up to the March primary. Quinn isn't saying much in response.

A spokeswoman for the Quinn campaign previously said there would be no debates between he and Hardiman.

On Wednesday, the governor was asked why voters shouldn't be able to hear from both men face to face.

The photographer Annie Leibovitz is best known for shooting celebrities. Her elaborately staged work is a staple of Vanity Fair and Vogue magazines. But a few years ago, she set out on a more personal project — a pilgrimage to capture places and objects connected to people who've inspired her, including Abraham Lincoln.

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