Mary Hansen

Reporter

Mary reports for NPR Illinois and the Illinois Newsroom. She graduated from the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois Springfield, where she spent a legislative session covering statehouse news for The Daily Herald. Previously, Mary reported for The State Journal-Register, covering city government. She received her BA in International Studies from American University. 

Peter Gray / NPR Illinois

Drive down a major road or highway in Illinois and you’ll likely feel the bump of potholes. A report from TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based research group, put a number on what it costs drivers to travel these roads — $18.3 billion. That includes additional car repairs, time lost in traffic, and crashes caused by poor road conditions.

Lawmakers are using the new report to push for a multibillion-dollar infrastructure plan, paid for in part by a gas tax hike and higher vehicle and registration fees.

Alex Coleman / Illinois Newsroom

In one town in the Metro East, across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, police are forcing landlords to evict tenants who have called for help during an overdose because they have heroin or other controlled substances in their rental property.

Kristin Walters

Illinois continues to lose residents, according to estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau released in April. Overall, around 45,000 fewer people lived in the state in 2018 than 2017, a loss of about 0.4%.

About half of that decline is in the Chicago metropolitan region, particularly in Cook County, which saw a 0.5% decrease. The recent numbers show growth in the Chicago region has slowed, but long-term trends find that downstate is shrinking at a much faster and sustained pace.

“If we take that longer view, we’re actually seeing population growth centered up around Chicago,” said Cynthia Buckley, a professor of sociology and social demographer at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

David Sam, president of Elgin Community College, said Wednesday the school has received nearly $1 million in donated equipment to help train workers for manufacturing jobs. But there’s a problem – he doesn’t have the space on campus to put it.

“Most of us don’t even have the space to put the equipment so that we can train the much-needed individuals to serve the manufacturing community,” Sam said during a news conference at the statehouse. 

Gas station pump
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

Former Republican congressman and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood made a pitch Monday for Illinois to raise its gas tax.

The Peoria native told a panel of lawmakers he would champion the tax hike even though his fellow Republicans may be opposed.

“I remember the days like many of you do when Illinois was a great state, when we had great infrastructure, when we were able to attract business to our state,” said LaHood, who headed the U.S. Department of Transportation under former President Barack Obama. “That’s what we want to get back to.”

A bowl of sesame seeds
Flickr user: jacqueline CC BY-NC 2.0

Around 150,000 children have an allergy to sesame, a study from Northwestern University shows. A proposal at the Illinois Statehouse could help parents and children avoid foods with the ingredient.

State Rep. Jonathan Carroll’s eight-year-old daughter is among the kids with the food allergy. During a cooking demonstration at school, she started swelling up because of tahini – a sesame-based product. Luckily, she took an antihistamine before the reaction was too bad.

State Week logo (capitol dome)
Brian Mackey

Even though it’s the legislative spring break, there are several issues still to be negotiated, including a potential construction program funded with a gasoline tax, legalization of recreational marijuna, dealing with the state’s growing pension debt, and what to do about a declining population.

Gas station pump
Brian Mackey / NPR Illinois

While gas prices fluctuate, one charge at the pump has stayed the same since 1990. Illinoisans have paid the same gas tax – the charge per gallon the state collects. But that could soon change.

NPR Illinois

Fewer Springfield residents voted in Tuesday’s mayoral election than four years ago.

Around 25,000 voters cast ballots in Springfield’s mayoral race, which incumbent Jim Langfelder won, according to preliminary numbers from the Sangamon County Clerk’s office.

That’s around 2,000 fewer than voted in 2015, when he was first elected. Turnout was still around 35%.

Tom Holbrook – a political science professor at University of Wisconsin Milwaukee – studies turnout in municipal elections. He says that’s above the average of 25% among the cities he’s looked at.

Dana Vollmer / NPR Illinois

Springfield voters gave Mayor Jim Langfelder a second term Tuesday.

He won out over Frank Edwards, a former alderman and fire chief, getting around 58% of the vote.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Tensions around racial inequality in Springfield flared at a candidate forum Wednesday night.

The candidates competing to represent some of the city’s oldest neighborhoods were asked at an event hosted by the State Journal-Register and 94.7 & 970 WMAY to react to an investigation into racial segregation in central Illinois.

A group of Southeast High School students participated in Illnois Public Media’s Civics Youth Engagement Summit in March. They came up with ten questions to ask.

Illinois Public Media emailed questionnaires to the candidates for city council. Below are the submitted responses from Ward 3 Ald. Doris Turner.

A group of Southeast High School students participated in Illnois Public Media’s Civics Youth Engagement Summit in March. They came up with ten questions to ask.

Illinois Public Media emailed questionnaires to the candidates for city council. Below are the submitted responses from Ward 10 candidate Rob Patino. Ward 10 Ald. Ralph Hanauer and candidate Olajide John Animasaun did not respond. 

A group of Southeast High School students participated in Illnois Public Media’s Civics Youth Engagement Summit in March. They came up with ten questions to ask.

Illinois Public Media emailed questionnaires to the candidates for city council. Below are the submitted responses from candidates for the Ward 8 seats, Erin Conley and Debra Kunkel. Candidate Dean Graven did not respon. 

A group of Southeast High School students participated in Illnois Public Media’s Civics Youth Engagement Summit in March. They came up with ten questions to ask.

Illinois Public Media emailed questionnaires to the candidates for city council. Below are the submitted responses from Ward 7 Ald. Joe McMenamin. Candidate Brad Carlson did not respond.

This post may be updated.

A group of Southeast High School students participated in Illnois Public Media’s Civics Youth Engagement Summit in March. They came up with ten questions to ask.

Illinois Public Media emailed questionnaires to the candidates for city council. Below are the submitted responses from Ward 6 Ald. Kristin DiCenso. Candidate Elizabeth Jones did not respond. 

A group of Southeast High School students participated in Illnois Public Media’s Civics Youth Engagement Summit in March. They came up with ten questions to ask.

Illinois Public Media emailed questionnaires to the candidates for city council.

Below are the submitted responses from Ward 5 Ald. Andrew Proctor. Candidates Lakeisha Purchase and Sam Cahnman did not submit answers.

This post may be updated.

A group of Southeast High School students participated in Illnois Public Media’s Civics Youth Engagement Summit in March. They came up with ten questions to ask.

Illinois Public Media emailed questionnaires to the candidates for city council. Below are the submitted responses. Answers from Ward 2 Ald. Herman Senor and candidates Gail Simpson and William "Shawn" Gregory.

Candidate Tom Shafer did not respond. 

This post may be updated.

A group of Southeast High School students participated in Illnois Public Media’s Civics Youth Engagement Summit in March. They came up with ten questions to ask.

Illinois Public Media emailed questionnaires to the candidates for city council. Below are the submitted responses from Ward 1 candidate Rev. T. Ray McJunkins.

Ward 1 Ald. Chuck Redpath did not submit answers. 

NPR Illinois

How would Springfield city council candidates engage young people in government?

Students from Springfield Southeast High School want to know the answer to that question and a few more. A group of five students from a government class participated in Illnois Public Media’s Civics Youth Engagement Summit in March. They came up with ten questions to ask.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Springfield Mayor Jim Langfelder is hoping to win re-election in next week’s city elections. He’s facing a challenge from a former alderman and fire chief, Frank Edwards.

The two have divergent views about the challenges the capital city is facing, and what to do about them.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Candidates vying to represent neighborhoods on Springfield’s east side and downtown as well as surrounding Lake Springfield met at a forum on Monday night.

A ward map is here (PDF). You can find out which ward you live in at the Sangamon County website.

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinoi

Springfield voters will choose a candidate to manage the city’s bank accounts, and collect fees and fines on April 2. Current treasurer Misty Buscher is running for re-election against challenger Jennifer Notariano.

NPR Illinois talked with both candidates about their experience, qualifications and priorities for the office. 

Brian Mackey

Lawmakers are considering whether to ask Illinoisans to pay more for gasoline — with the money dedicated to fixing crumbling infrastructure.

A new proposal at the Statehouse would double the motor fuel tax — from the current 19 cents up to 38 cents a gallon. It would also up driver’s license and vehicle registrations fees, with the goal of raising $2 billion a year to pay for road, bridge, highway and rail improvements.

Kristin Walters / IL Newsroom

In Illinois, there are only 35 affordable housing units for every 100 families considered extremely low-income, according to Housing Action Illinois, a housing advocacy organization.

Housing Choice Voucher, also known as Section 8, is a federal program designed to make market-rate apartments accessible to people who wouldn’t be able to afford it otherwise. The voucher program covers part of the rent for around 97,000 families in Illinois.

In response to a call for questions on affordable housing, one Illinois Newsroom listener asked: “How does Section 8 work? It seems like a great program in theory that also seems really hard for families to access in practice.”

Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Many communities in Illinois have rules that say renters can lose their housing if someone in the home is connected to a crime. City leaders who back the policies say the rules make neighborhoods safer. But fair housing advocates question the tactics.

Flickr user: TaxCredits.net

Stores in Illinois keep a portion of what you pay in sales tax. Think of it like a collection fee, though in state government shorthand it’s called a retail discount.

The amount is based on a percentage of what they collect. So the more they sell, the more they keep.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker wants to cap that amount to $1,000 per month for each retailer. It’s one of several proposals aimed at addressing a $3.2 billion deficit in next year’s budget.

Madelyn Beck

Brian Otten likens his process for dealing with road problems to a triage system.

As the highway engineer in Perry County in southern Illinois, Otten says he gets calls about potholes or cracked drainage pipes. 

“And we’ll go out there and take a look and say, this pipe is about fall in and somebody could have an accident here and really get hurt. That takes precedence over the inconvenience of a pothole,” he said.

Problems on interstate highways and bridges get a lot of attention. But you may be seeing more potholes and cracks on the roads you take to work or even live on, particularly in rural areas.

Slow internet service can slow a business down, adding up to lost time and money. And often the problem is worse in rural areas.

That’s one reason John Sullivan, acting director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, said improving internet access is a top priority for him.

“If there isn’t adequate access to high-speed internet, it really drags and holds back the possibility for jobs and opportunities in those areas,” he said.

road construction
Gary Brown via Flickr (gsbrown99)

Driving around Illinois, chances are you’ve experience the jarring crack of a tire hitting the bottom of a pothole. This week, acting transportation secretary Matt Magalis put a cost on that feeling: between $13 billion and $15 billion.

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