By Jamey Dunn
The Illinois House today approved a constitutional amendment to eliminate the lieutenant governor’s office.
If approved by the Senate, HJRCA 18 would appear on the ballot before voters in the 2014 general election. If voters approved the proposal, the position would be eliminated in 2019.
Supporters pitched the idea as a cost saving measure. “It is a luxury that we can no longer afford,” said Rep. David McSweeney, who sponsored the amendment. The budget for Lt. Gov. She Simon’s office for the current fiscal year is $1.8 million. Under Gov. Pat Quinn’s proposed budget, the office would get $1.75 million.
Opponents said that the state needs a lieutenant governor to step in if the governor cannot fulfill the duties of the office. They pointed to just a few years ago when lawmakers impeached former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and removed him from office. Quinn was sworn in to the governor’s office the same day that the Senate voted to boot Blagojevich.
“The lieutenant governor does have some duties. First of all the lieutenant governor sits on several boards the lieutenant governor has some state duties this constitutional amendment doesn’t deal with those in any way and so there would be a hole in the law,” said Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat. “Secondly and maybe more importantly it wasn’t too long ago in this state that we sent the governor packing and when we did that we had a lieutenant governor in place that took over with a reasonable system under the law to make sure that the duties of the governor were transferred to an appropriate person.”
Lang added as he spoke on the House floor: “I would urge you to think carefully about the role of the lieutenant governor—yes minimal under our statute, yes minimal under our constitution—but nevertheless we’ve just gone through a time in Illinois’ history when I think it’s been important that we had a lieutenant governor.”
McSweeney said that the attorney general could easily step into the governor’s office if the need were to arise again. “We are cutting basic social services. It’s a travesty. We have 8 billion to 9 billion of unpaid bills. How can we justify spending $2 million on this office when the attorney general is capable of taking the responsibility?” he said. “This is a message that we are serious about cutting spending. It will show the voters that we’re finally willing to eliminate an office.”
A spokesperson for Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon said that Simon doesn’t oppose the idea of giving voters a choice about the office. But she is against its elimination. She said Simon has cut during her time in the post. “In these tough economic times, Lt. Gov. Simon has made it her mission to do more with less for the taxpayers of Illinois. She has voluntarily cut her budget by more than 12 percent the past two years and gives back a portion of her salary each year,” Simon spokeswoman Annie Thompson said in a written statement. “Simon is working hard to improve the quality of life for Illinois residents as the state’s point person on education reform, an advocate for victims of domestic violence and our military families, and she is leading the effort to preserve our rivers.”
Simon has announced that she will not be seeking reelection in 2014, saying she wants a chance to do more for the state. “Serving as Lieutenant Governor has given me an opportunity to advocate on important issues that affect our state but it is time for me to do even more,” Simon said in a prepared statement when she announced she would not run for lieutenant governor again. “I want to serve the people of Illinois in a role where I can have an even greater impact.”