Mary Hansen

Mary is a reporter at NPR Illinois and graduated from the Public Affairs Reporting program at UIS and received her BA in International Studies from American University. Previously Mary worked as a planning consultant and reported for the State Journal-Register where she covered city government.

Mary is a lifelong NPR listener since tuning into her home station WESA in Pittsburgh.

Gary Smith has worked at the grain elevator at Okaw Farmer’s Co-op in Lovington, Illinois, for forty years. On his desk sit two computer screens, where he tracks corn and soybean prices online at the Chicago Board of Trade.

As he explains, trade moves fast: “Just bam bam bam, and within a few seconds it could change a nickel or a dime against your favor.”

Farm towns in Illinois could get access to high-speed internet with the help of new federal funding.

Nine companies are getting nearly $100 million from the Federal Communications Commission to bring internet access to small towns in the state.

The commission this week announced the subsidies, which are funded from a service fee on most internet and phone bills.

Wisper ISP, based in Mascoutah, Illinois, was awarded the largest grant, $35 million, to connect nearly 9,000 homes and businesses in southern Illinois.

Farm towns in Illinois have been shrinking for decades, and the trend doesn’t show signs of reversing.

By 2025, rural counties with populations of less than 10,000 people will see 7.4 percent of their residents leave, while counties with populations between 10,000 and 25,000 will lose 5.4 percent. That’s according to projections from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Illinois and Springfield officials gathered in the capital city Sunday to dedicate a new plaza celebrating the state’s 200th anniversary.

The pedestrian walkway spans a block between the Lincoln Home National Historic Site and the Illinois Executive Mansion.

Recent ratings from political analysts downgraded the likelihood that two Republican Congressmen in Illinois will win re-election.

In an off-presidential year, it’s no secret that candidates from the president’s party have a tougher time winning races. That’s one reason a project from the University of Virginia Center for Politics moved the re-election campaigns of Congressmen Rodney Davis and Randy Hultgren one notch closer to a toss-up.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, John Lucas and his granddaughter, McKenna, bet on Saber Rattler at the Fairmount Park Racetrack in Collinsville.

"If she wins this, it'll be the third race in a row she's won," says Lucas as they watch the horses round the final stretch of the track. Saber Rattler came in second.

Lucas has been visiting the track outside of St. Louis a few times a year since the 1980s, traveling across the Illinois border from O'Fallon, Missouri.

Lucas has noticed the steady downturn in fortunes for the track.

This is part of our election-year series, Money Machines, looking at campaign spending in the 2018 election. The first article can be found here.

Dave Plunk has run Music Makers in Galesburg for more than 15 years, occupying two floors of a three-story building on the town’s main street with rows of guitars, amps and other music equipment.

Entrepreneurs and job-seekers in central Illinois can mark their calendars for December 3 and 4, 2018. Facebook is bringing a two-day workshop to Springfield.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on online shopping left two things clear – consumers who buy online will have to pay sales tax on more items, and some states will see more money from those online purchases.

Illinois is losing residents, according to recent census estimates, and common explanations include high taxes, unfriendly business policies or the state’s growing pension debt.

An article from the watchdog group Better Government Association examines those claims. The BGA’s senior editor, Bob Secter, says they distract from a deeper look at demographic trends.

Illinois will host what could be the most expensive race for governor in U.S. history. The huge increase in campaign spending raises a lot of questions about the rise of big money in politics. Between now and the election, Illinois Issues will examine the impact in a series we're calling Money Machines.

Talks to legalize sports betting in Illinois have heated up after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a federal ban last week.

Illinois lawmakers have two weeks to get together a spending plan. Officials from cities across the state are going on the offensive to keep lawmakers from balancing the budget by raiding their pockets.

As more retail chains shut down, cities across Illinois figure out what to do with millions of square feet of empty space.

Legislation to expand Illinois’ sales tax for online shopping recently passed the Senate. But it faces several more hurdles before it could become law.

Legislation to expand Illinois’ sales tax for online shopping recently passed the Senate. But it faces several more hurdles before it could become law.

March Madness fans in Illinois could not legally bet on Monday’s championship game. But a U.S. Supreme Court decision expected this spring could open the door to states allowing sports betting, both in-person and online.

Lawmakers in Illinois and more than a dozen other states are considering proposals that would regulate the industry.

A study from Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, LLC shows earnings could total $681 million in the state, according to Chris Grove, managing director of sports with the firm. That could mean tax revenue in the tens of millions.

Pickup trucks and construction equipment crowd the lawn of the Illinois Executive Mansion and the block across the street.

Gov. Bruce Rauner and his wife, Diana, have raised the money for the $15 million mansion makeover, which is slated to be complete by the end of the summer. And the governor is eyeing the city-owned block, dubbed the “Y-block” for the YWCA that used to sit there, as an extension of that project.

Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Democratic nominee for governor J.B. Pritzker and incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner haven’t taken a break from campaigning since winning their respective primaries last week. Pritzker won in a landslide, while Rauner squeaked by his opponent. Mary Hansen talked with Charlie Wheeler, who says the tight race was no surprise.

Charlie Wheeler is the director of the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois Springfield. 

As big box stores continue to close, some worry Illinois isn't ready for the changing economy.

Erika Harold won the Republican nomination for Illinois attorney general, while state Sen. Kwame Raoul defeated a crowded race to win the Democratic nod. They'll face off in the general election in November.

Incumbent Attorney General Lisa Madigan set off a scramble last year when she made a surprise announcement she would not seek a fifth term. The race drew ten candidates in all.

With funding from the Republican Party and Governor Bruce Rauner, Harold beat former Burr Ridge mayor Gary Grasso, winning 60 percent of the vote.

Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

As Illinois attempts to balance its books, it’s dipping into pots of money meant to help cities and towns pay for services. And local officials are looking for options.

One idea is to make it easier for smaller cities to gain home-rule status, which allows those towns to have more flexibility in how they operate. Home rule governments can borrow more money for big road projects, set more zoning rules and institute sales and gas taxes.

 

Part 2: Most of the radium-tainted earth from decades-old manufacturing in Ottawa has been removed, but one major site still needs cleanup.

Candidates in the Illinois governor’s race blew through campaign contribution limits months ago, but recently a few state House races did too.

During his first year in office, President Donald Trump has rescinded or repealed many of his predecessor’s policies aimed at curbing climate change and protecting the air and water from pollution.

Those rollbacks — along with funding cuts to state environmental protection agencies — have concerned Jennifer Walling, executive director of the Illinois Environmental Council (IEC).

“We’ve seen that whether it’s in Flint, Michigan, or… the lead in water in East Chicago, Indiana, these are issues states can’t necessarily deal with on their own,” Walling said. If Illinois were faced with an environmental crisis, it may not have the resources needed to address it.

Illinois coal mines lost 228 jobs in the last year, according to numbers from the federal agency that tracks mine safety. That’s fewer jobs than were shed in 2016, and production is up by around 11 percent in the state.

The trend is encouraging, said Phil Gonet, president of the Illinois Coal Association. He attributes the shift in part to President Donald Trump’s roll-back of the Clean Power Plan and other environmental regulations during his first year in office.

Illinois lawmakers ended the state budget impasse and made big changes to how the state pays for public schools. The state also wrestled with the debate over abortion and a nationwide rise in hate incidents.

Environmental groups in Illinois are renewing their push to stop fracking in Illinois before it starts. 

As the holiday season kicks off, more people are using sites like Amazon and eBay to buy gifts.

The booming online shopping industry has cities across Illinois worried. They say it’s taking a bite out of their budgets. 

Illinois began collecting the state sales tax on more online purchases in 2015. But that generally doesn't include the extra percentage in local sales tax that is paid at a store. Peoria city manager Patrick Urich says his city has seen decreased revenue, and blames the outdated way Illinois collects taxes.

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