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State

Budget battle, leadership scandals top 2015 Illinois stories

CHICAGO (AP) – The unprecedented budget stand-off between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic leaders topped the list of Illinois’ most important news stories in 2015.

The Associated Press’ Top 10 stories of the year featured a number of political scandals and leadership issues, including the legal troubles facing former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert and former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock.

State government news included the first legal medical marijuana going on sale and the Illinois Supreme Court’s rejection of lawmakers’ attempt to fix the state’s enormous employee pension shortfall, now at $111 billion.

The top 10 Illinois stories of 2015:

1. The state ends the year without a working budget after Rauner and legislative Democrats lock horns on the need for revenue and the Republican’s demand for structural changes that he says will make it easier for business in Illinois. The fallout includes layoffs and cutbacks at social service agencies and a halt to lottery payments.

2. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago Police Department and Cook County prosecutors all face criticism after a squad-car video shows a white officer shooting a black teenager 16 times. The officer is charged with murder, but the police chief is fired, protesters call for Emanuel to resign, and the U.S. Justice Department announces a civil rights investigation.

3. Hastert pleads guilty to a felony charge of evading bank reporting rules in a hush money case and awaits sentencing. Law enforcement sources tell The Associated Press’s Eric Tucker and other journalists that the former Yorkville teacher and wrestling coach plotted to give $3.5 million to an “Individual A” to cover up claims he sexually molested someone in the past.

4. Rauner, a venture capitalist, becomes the state’s first Republican governor in 12 years. He launches a so-called “Turnaround Illinois” agenda that includes efforts to reduce the influence of public employee unions.

5. Marijuana is sold legally in Illinois for the first time under a medical pilot program. Among remaining issues is whether to expand the number of eligible patients.

6. Lawmakers are back to square one on the state’s biggest financial crisis after the Illinois Supreme Court tosses out a 2013 overhaul of the underfunded employee pension system. The justices cite the 1970 Illinois constitution, which says no promised employee benefit shall later be diminished.

7. Schock, a rising Republican star from Peoria, resigns after a spending scandal ignited by discovery he had redesigned his Washington, D.C., office in the style of the TV show “Downton Abbey.” A federal investigation continues.

8. After a weeks-long manhunt, investigators announce that Fox Lake Police Lt. Charles Joseph “G.I. Joe” Gliniewicz killed himself and staged the death to look like a homicide. Gliniewicz had been cited nationally as an example of the dangers police face, but investigators said he was trying to cover up his embezzlement from a police Explorers program.

9. The normally underachieving Chicago Cubs win 97 games and beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Divisional Series. Skipper Joe Maddon wins the league’s manager of the year award, pitcher Jake Arrieta wins the Cy Young Award and slugger Kris Bryant is rookie of the year.

10. The University of Illinois suffers through more leadership crises, as Chancellor Phyllis Wise resigns ahead of a private-email scandal and athletic director Mike Thomas is fired after players accuse coaches of mistreatment. Head football coach Tim Beckman also is forced out a week before the season-opening game, accused of forcing team members to play while injured.

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