Lite gov, or gov lite, is what the Capitol crowd calls the lieutenant governor, and that’s being charitable.
It’s actually the electoral equivalent of an ice salesman at the North Pole. Or, as one wag put it, “vice president in charge of looking out the window.”
So is it finally time to get rid of an office that takes up space, soaks up tax dollars and amounts to little more than an expensive insurance policy?
Some lawmakers say yes, and they want to put the question on the November 2014 ballot for Illinois voters to answer.
That’s a long way off, but it’s worth discussing now, as candidates for governor complete the quadrennial ritual of selecting their running mates. And superfluous or not, they’ve taken the choices seriously by scouring officialdom for ticket-mates who appeal to new voting blocs or geographical areas and have deep pockets.
That’s the politics. But we’re interested in the economics.
The Better Government Association isn’t calling for the elimination of the lieutenant governor’s position, but it’s definitely on our “watch list” as we consider ways to downsize and streamline a state with the most tax-eating units of government in the country.
Others are ready to toss gov lite into the recycling bin now, including the Illinois House, which voted overwhelmingly in April to dump the office, calling it a “luxury” our cash-strapped state can no longer afford. If the Senate concurs, the next step could be a referendum on the ballot a year from November.
Then it’s to the voters, so here’s a primer:
Lite gov makes $118,000 a year, the annual office budget is nearly $2 million, and the only major responsibility is to step in if a governor dies, resigns or, like Rod Blagojevich, gets impeached and ousted by the General Assembly.
Since those are rare occurrences, occupants of the office mainly do odd jobs and think about what to run for next.
One recent lite gov quit because he was bored and another threatened to leave for a radio gig but changed his mind.
As for Pat Quinn, he actually liked the position and recommends keeping it. Why not? He got to pursue the gadfly agenda he enjoys, take over the governor’s office when Blagojevich was expelled and keep it by winning the 2010 election.
But it’s worth noting that while Quinn was completing Blago’s second term, there wasn’t a lite gov and no one noticed.
The current officeholder, Sheila Simon, also wants to maintain the post, but she’s exiting to run for another office.
Nationally, five states don’t have a lieutenant governor, so their Senate presidents or secretaries of state are next in line.
The Illinois plan, which would take effect in 2019, makes the attorney general the successor. That works, too.
Bottom line: Illinois is still a safe haven for thousands of unnecessary public payroll jobs, with their generous health and pension benefits. So maybe it is time to let Illinois voters decide whether lite gov is a superfluous sinecure that should be eliminated, in much the same way discerning beer drinkers have rejected light brews in favor of craft beers.
In fact, we could start with a straw poll in Springfield’s taverns and either forward the results to lawmakers or hand them the figures on their way out.
Photo credit: llinois Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon