There are three weeks left in the spring legislative session and, as usual, the denizens of the Capitol are beginning to speculate on the end game.
The major issue hanging in the balance is, as usual, the state budget.
Gov. Pat Quinn is spreading an apocalyptic message of doomsday if lawmakers don't make the 2011 temporary tax increase permanent. Schools will have to shed thousands of teachers. Prisoners will be set free. State police will stop investigating crimes. A swarm of flesh-eating locusts will descend on the Land of Lincoln.
In other words, mayhem will occur when the tax rolls back on Jan. 1.
The political calculation by Democrats is this: We must scare the middle class into supporting an extension of the tax hike in order to get them to vote for us in November.
Republicans think they've got a better message: Democrats have squandered the extra money voters have been paying in taxes and they shouldn't be allowed to return to Springfield.
House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton are on board with Quinn when it comes to extending the tax hike. Cullerton already has predicted he can muscle the tax through his chamber before the May 31 adjournment date.
That leaves all eyes on the House, where its no sure bet that Madigan has the juice to convince reluctant members to vote on a taxation issue in the months before his members are up for re-election.
One theory for how this will all play out began emerging last week. Rather than take the tough vote, Madigan will ask his members to vote for Quinn's preferred budget — one that doesn't include the drastic cuts — but not take a vote on making the income tax permanent.
State government operations would continue as they are now. But, come January when income tax rates roll back from 5 percent to 3.75 percent, the state won't have enough money to continue on its current track.
Such a move would turn the race for governor into a referendum on whether voters want the tax hike to stay permanent.
A vote for Quinn would be a vote for keeping the tax intact, thus avoiding the doomsday budget scenario he and his agency heads have been laying out this spring.
A vote for Republican businessman Bruce Rauner would be a vote for allowing the tax to roll back and the possibility of major cuts in state spending.
For Madigan, approving an extension of the tax hike before the election would allow Rauner, if he wins, to walk into office without having to make tough budget decisions.
Why would Madigan, the chairman of the Democratic Party in Illinois, hand him that gift?
Waiting to see the outcome of the election before dealing with the tax hike also would offer leery lawmakers political cover.
Crunch time is here. The countdown clock is ticking.
"Are you ready to come up here and testify against pregnant women?"
That was the question posed to business groups during a Senate hearing last week by state Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park. The organizations are trying to tweak a proposed law designed to protect pregnant women against discrimination.