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updated: 1/17/2010 9:22 PM

2 lieutenant governor hopefuls say office could be eliminated

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By Timothy Magaw

SPRINGFIELD - Lieutenant governor hopeful Sen. Matt Murphy said he'd be open to eliminating the very office he's running for in an effort to rein in the size and cost of state government.

"I would be open to this being the last term of lieutenant governor because, frankly, we're going to have to make some tough calls," the Palatine Republican said during Thursday night's debate between Republican lieutenant governor hopefuls in Springfield.

Murphy, who is running as an unofficial team with gubernatorial candidate and former Illinois Republican Party Chairman Andy McKenna, wasn't the only candidate open to eliminating the office. Springfield attorney Don Tracy said the office wasn't a good training ground for the next governor and also said it would be a good cost-cutting measure even if it were a "drop in the bucket" of the state's multibillion-dollar deficit.

Meanwhile, the other candidates talked about expanding the role of the lieutenant governor to make the office more useful. The office has few official responsibilities other than waiting for the governor to resign, get kicked out of office or die. In 1981, for instance, Republican Dave O'Neal resigned from the lieutenant governor's office, saying he was bored with the job.

The Illinois Constitution requires that the lieutenant governor perform duties delegated by the governor and others required by statute. By law, the lieutenant governor chairs the governor's Rural Affairs Council, River Coordinating Council as well as heads the Illinois Main Street Program.

The candidates' aspirations for the office, however, went far beyond duties delegated by law. Former Madison County Republican Party Chairman Jason Plummer said he wants to focus the office "on the issues where the state is struggling" such as job creation, cutting taxes and eliminating corruption.

Carbondale Mayor Brad Cole and Tracy were the only candidates who wouldn't say "no" to a tax increase to remedy the state's fiscal woes. Tracy said a tax hike could be a last resort in an effort to avoid massive closings, while Cole said a tax hike is an issue that "cannot be realistically taken off the table."

One common thread was to cut spending before any tax increase could be considered. Candidates agreed this is necessary, considering the state's massive backlog of bills.

"We didn't get into this mess in one year and we're not going to get out in one year," Murphy said. "We can shorten it down. We can whittle this down, but you're not going to do it overnight."

Hamilton pastor Randy A. White Sr. suggested cutting legislative salaries, while Dennis Cook, president of the District 230 school board in Orland Park, touted his experience balancing his district's budget.