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posted: 4/17/2013 5:00 AM

Editorial: Save money, drop state's No. 2 post

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Three years ago, when the job of lieutenant governor was vacant, 13 candidates ran for the post. Clearly, it must have important duties and some power attached to it, right?

Wrong. Its allure is in what it potentially can lead to -- the governor's office, just as it did for the current governor, Pat Quinn, after Rod Blagojevich was impeached.

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And knowing who the successor will be in case a sitting governor can't continue is an important issue. But line of succession doesn't have to mean creating a governor-in-waiting position. That's the message in what the Illinois House did last week and one that we support.

Rep. David McSweeney, a Barrington Hills Republican, sponsored a bill approved by the House that would eliminate the lieutenant governor position by 2019. It is estimated that the move will save the state about $1.8 million a year.

While that's a small number compared with the entire state budget, it's still significant in that it makes a statement that legislators are serious about cutting costs where they can. It's a good first step in consolidating government and one that we hope leads to even more consolidation.

We have long supported merging the state comptroller and treasurer's office as another means of saving money and eliminating waste. We urge the legislature to take that on as well. Both would need to be approved by voters because they change the state Constitution. Why not do it all at once with a vote in 2014?

Not all agree with the elimination of the lieutenant governor's position, and it shouldn't be done lightly. Indeed, the current officeholder, Sheila Simon, believes it's important for the governor to have an independent adviser who can't be fired. But the post has few official duties, and there have been many times in the past when the post has been vacant and the state wasn't any the worse for it.

Indeed, one of those times was when Dave O'Neal quit the job in 1981, saying it was too boring. Another time, the incumbent wanted to quit to take a job in radio. He stayed at the governor's request. Others have found causes to champion and made something out of very little. But in a time when the state's finances are so precarious, coming up with duties while a politician awaits his or her turn to run for or be appointed to the governorship is not good government.

McSweeney's legislation, which still needs to be approved by the Senate, would move the attorney general up to next in line to succeed a governor who can't continue. Illinois would be one of eight states not to have a lieutenant governor and the only one to have an attorney general as successor. Other states have the secretary of state or the Senate president next in line.

The only downside we can see with the current plan is that it's possible someone from a different party would succeed the governor. That's a concern, but not one that should preclude this change.

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