It’s time to start watching again after a welcome holiday break.

Despite the gravitational pull of the Chicago mayoral race, much of our good-government focus is on Springfield and the Illinois General Assembly this week, where a brief lame-duck session provides a unique (and some would say a dangerous) opportunity for political leaders to forge coalitions around controversial issues that may be easier to pass now—with the help of departing members—than later, when the new legislature is seated and lawmakers have to measure each vote in the context of political impact.

So pay close attention as state officials consider a variety of plans to deal with the budget and pension crises, including a massive expansion of gaming, a big increase in the state income tax and a multi-billion dollar borrowing and debt restructuring package. The sweeteners for these difficult votes may be significant cost-saving and accountability reforms in Medicaid, education, worker’s compensation and budget transparency.

The must-read news stories on the upcoming Springfield session include “The Lay of the Land,” which is the headline on Rich Miller’s scene-setter in Capitol Fax, a Bloomberg background report and the first item in Laura Washington’s Sun-Times column.

I’m also watching some other things today:

Photo: Romana Klee/Flickr