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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(As state lawmakers consider another try at cutting pension benefits for government workers, we revisit this interview from 2016 with former Illinois Senate attorney Eric Madiar)

Illinois continues to have the worst funded government pension systems of all 50 states. Legislators have taken several swipes at reducing those costs. But so far they’ve all been batted away by the Illinois Supreme Court.

Who should pay for the Illinois courts?

Illinois government has been stuck in a rut for going on 18 months now, and much of the attention has centered on the fight between Governor Bruce Rauner and the Democratic leaders in the General Assembly.

  The administration of Governor Bruce Rauner is touting the low interest rate Illinois got in last week’s bond sale. But at least one public finance expert says that’s not the full story. 

Illinois has a constitutional requirement that its budget must be balanced — spending has to equal revenues every year. But is the Illinois budget ever really balanced?

Brian Mackey put that question to two people who closely follow Illinois' finances: Charlie Wheeler, director of the Public Affairs Reporting at the University of Illinois Springfield, and Jamey Dunn, editor of Illinois Issues.

    

Gov. Bruce Rauner marked the end of the legislative session with a blistering attack on Democratic legislators. He then embarked on an eight-city tour — mostly downstate — where he continued his critique.

One of Rauner’s main messages is that Democrats are holding the state budget “hostage” in order to get their way. I thought that accusation of political ill-will had a familiar ring, so I decided to take a closer look at the governor’s communication strategy.

  A federal judge has approved the settlement in a lawsuit over the treatment of Illinois’ mentally ill prisoners.

Without admitting wrongdoing, Department of Corrections Director John Baldwin says his agency is building four new mental health units, hiring more staff, and changing its policies on solitary confinement.

Now that it seems Donald Trump will be his party’s nominee for president, Republicans have a decision to make.

The Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday struck down another attempt to control the cost of government pension benefits.

This time it was Chicago city employees and retirees whose pensions were being targeted. The retirement system for one set of workers is projected to be insolvent in about a decade.

In 2014, the Illinois General Assembly changed the rules, but in Thursday's 5-0 ruling, the Supreme Court found that unconstitutional.

Illinois Public Radio’s Brian Mackey spoke with his colleague Amanda Vinicky about the decision.

It’s been 10 months since the Illinois Supreme Court struck down the state’s last attempt at a pension overhaul. Legislators have yet to decide what to do about Illinois’ worst-in-the-nation pension debt, but they are beginning to weigh their options.

Republicans in the U.S. Senate have vowed to block any nominee the president might submit to succeed the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. But Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois says there’s more than enough time to consider who should fill the vacancy.

Gov. Bruce Rauner endorsed the work of his criminal justice commission Thursday. He also made an unusual statement on prisons.

Commissioners are still working to reach Rauner’s goal of reducing Illinois' inmate population by 12,000 men and women over the next decade. They have delivered their first set of recommendations, and Rauner told commissioners he was excited about the report, calling it "excellent."

"What I can guarantee you: I will work tirelessly to make sure this isn't just something that just gathers dust," he said. "I’m going to implement this."

Illinois could finally reckon with its dramatically overcrowded prisons in 2016.

The entire system is at 146 percent of the capacity it was designed to hold, but that number doesn’t tell the whole story. Some individual prisons — such as East Moline, Illinois River and Lincoln — are above 200 percent of the rated capacity.

With Illinois in its sixth month without a budget, the state's top political leaders met Tuesday in Springfield. It was the first time they'd all gotten together in months. We asked Brian Mackey to tell us whether anything was accomplished.

A federal lawsuit is seeking to overturn Illinois’ ban on campaign contributions from medical marijuana companies.

  The case was brought last week by two Libertarian Party political candidates: Claire Ball of Addison, who says she's running for comptroller, and Scott Schluter of Marion, who says he's running for state representative. They say they favor legalization of drugs, and that companies that agree with them should be able to support their campaigns.

Gov. Bruce Rauner is standing by his decision to backtrack on cuts to a low-income daycare program. That comes even as Democrats in the Illinois House failed to pass legislation that would have forced Rauner to undo his changes.

The program is meant to help parents out of poverty by subsidizing daycare, so they can work or go to school.

Rauner unilaterally slashed eligibility this summer. After months of outcry and a Democratic threat to pass legislation undoing his changes, Rauner on Monday announced he'd back off most of the cuts.

The Illinois Supreme Court has once again ruled in favor of tobacco giant Philip Morris. The decision, announced Wednesday, saves the company from a $10.1 billion judgment. 

The case has been before the court off and on for more than a decade. A group of smokers say Philip Morris tricked them into thinking “light” cigarettes were safer than regular. 

Thomas Fitzgerald, a judge who had a leading role in the aftermath of some of Illinois’ most notorious political scandals, died on Sunday at his home in the Chicago suburbs.

News Analysis — On September 18, 2012, the year before Bruce Rauner declared his candidacy for governor, he shared his vision for a crisis that could help reshape state government.

The Donald's stance on immigration has kept him atop the polls, but it presents dangers for Republicans in a state with a growing Latino electorate.

You might think that with the state of Illinois’ finances in flames, the top legislative leaders would be in constant meetings with the governor. You might think they were working around the clock to hammer out a compromise. You might think that, but you would be wrong.

The Illinois House has overruled Governor Bruce Rauner over how to address heroin addiction in the state.

Lawmakers spent more than a year working on a big anti-heroin initiative. It passed with both Democratic and Republican support, but Rauner vetoed a provision to expand treatment for low-income addicts.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin was among the bipartisan group of lawmakers who voted to overrule the governor's changes.

Gov.Bruce Rauner declared victory Wednesday in a key battle against government labor unions and the Democratic Party.

AFSCME and other state employee unions have had a rough time in contract negotiations with the Rauner administration. So they backed legislation that would let an arbitrator decide the contract if the union and governor couldn't come to an agreement.

The governor vetoed that legislation, and Democrats in the House tried — and failed — to override him.

A government labor union says it's “positive” the Illinois House will side with it over Gov. Bruce Rauner. A key vote on on whether to override Rauner's veto of a union-backed bill is expected Wednesday.

Governor Bruce Rauner officially opened the Illinois State Fair Friday morning. But there is still no state budget in place, and Rauner would not say how Illinois is paying for the fair.

There were all the trappings of the usual fair grand opening: politicians, a Lincoln impersonator, a ribbon cutting.

But an impasse between Rauner, a Republican, and Democratic majorities in the legislature means Illinois has no legal authority to pay for the fair. Rauner, however, refused to answer questions about that — or anything else.

Non-profit groups say the ongoing fight over the state budget could lead to tragic consequences for thousands of Illinoisans.

The agencies have state contracts for everything from taking care of people with disabilities to placing children in foster care. But the partisan fight over state spending means they're not being paid.

Al Riddley, on the board of the Illinois Partners for Human Service, says the groups are being led on a "death march."

Amid Illinois' ongoing budget battle, there was a rare moment of bipartisanship on Tuesday. Members of the Illinois House have voted to block a pay raise for themselves.

Lawmakers are scheduled to get an automatic pay hike this year, and Gov. Bruce Rauner has been relentlessly criticizing Democrats for not voting to block it.

Fiscal year 2016 is upon us and Illinois still doesn’t have a budget.  Will Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner ever reach an agreement with legislative Democrats?  How quickly will state government grind to a halt?  And who will take the blame?  

The Illinois Senate on Wednesday began taking up parts of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s pro-business agenda. They’re just as quickly taking them out.

A $10-billion lawsuit was back before the Illinois Supreme Court Tuesday. A group of smokers say Philip Morris defrauded them into thinking light cigarettes were safer than regular — but lost the case a decade ago. Now they’re hoping for another bite at the apple.

The case was decided way back in 2005, when a sharply divided Illinois Supreme Court overturned the record $10-billion judgment. The justices ruled that the Federal Trade Commission had approved marketing “light” cigarettes as safer.

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