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Article updated: 4/12/2013 8:39 AM

House backs plan to eliminate lieutenant governor job

By Mike Riopell

SPRINGFIELD -- A suburban Republican's bid to eliminate Illinois' lieutenant governor job by 2019 was approved by the Illinois House Thursday.

State Rep. David McSweeney, a Barrington Hills Republican, convinced his fellow lawmakers to vote to amend the Illinois Constitution and eliminate a job that would save the state about $1.8 million per year.

"It is a luxury we can no longer afford," McSweeney said.

The amendment was approved by a 83-28 vote.

"I feel very good. Eighty-three votes I think is a strong message that we're serious about cutting spending," McSweeney said.

The proposal now moves to the Illinois Senate. If approved there, it would go to the voters in 2014. And if voters approve the amendment, the office would be eliminated in 2019.

Critics pointed out the couple million dollars are a tiny sliver of the state's yearly spending. And Gov. Pat Quinn ascended to the job from the lieutenant governor's office when Rod Blagojevich was booted by lawmakers just four years ago.

But supporters argued state government didn't grind to a halt when the lieutenant governor job remained vacant between Quinn taking office in 2009 and Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon being elected in 2011.

The plan wouldn't affect Simon as she isn't running for re-election. Simon opposes eliminating the office but won't take a position on the amendment itself, saying voters should have the option.

"The (lieutenant governor) is the only administration officer the governor cannot fire and can be counted on to serve as an independent advisor," Simon spokeswoman Annie Thompson said in a statement.

McSweeney's plan would put the attorney general in the state's top job if a governor could no longer serve.

At the moment, that would put Attorney General Lisa Madigan in the governor's mansion if something happened to Quinn, but the change could cause trouble if the two officers were of opposite parties, allowing a Republican to replace a Democratic governor or vice versa.

"The voters have a right to be led by the party of their choice," said state Rep. Christian Mitchell, a Chicago Democrat.

The lieutenant governor's office comes with few official duties in Illinois.

In previous years, Illinois candidates for governor and lieutenant governor ran separately in primary elections, then the winners ran as a ticket in November.

For the first time in 2014, the candidates will run as a ticket in the primary, too.

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