All of the uncertainty surrounding Illinois’ pension mess has left thousands of state employees growling and panting, worried that they’ll have to eat cat food in their old age if the state doesn’t fix the massively underfunded systems.

The situation has triggered thousands of prison guards, university employees and public school teachers to retire, hoping to lock in their pension benefits for the long term.

Recently, two workers at the Illinois Secretary of State’s office retired. They had been employed in the agency’s Hazardous Device Unit.

On the way out the door, we assume they received lots of hugs, pats and scratches between the ears.

Indeed, the two recent retirees were bomb-sniffing dogs, presumably concerned that a pension overhaul could take away their free veterinary care insurance premiums.

You know things are bad when even man’s best friend is heading for the exits. No bones about it.

The state, meanwhile, says the departure of the furry duo won’t leave the state short-pawed when it comes to detecting explosives.

A spokesman for Secretary of State Jesse White says the search is on to replace the two pooches. Let’s hope they review their pay and benefits before accepting the job.

Blago beat

The same man who tried to convince us that Rod Blagojevich was an ethical-minded reformer is now backing another Democrat from Chicago for governor.

Pete Giangreco, a political consultant who helped elevate the now-imprisoned former governor to the top elected post in Illinois, is listed as a strategist for Bill Daley, the son and brother of Chicago mayors who now wants to become Illinois’ next chief executive.

In addition to being a mouthpiece for Blagojevich, Giangreco also has worked as a direct mail consultant for Barack Obama in 2008 and for failed U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias.

Daley, meanwhile, announced his plan to send Pat Quinn packing via an online video.

Now everyone is waiting for Attorney General Lisa Madigan to announce her next move.

The waiting game

A Turkish conglomerate looking to build a fertilizer production facility in either Illinois or Iowa is waiting for Gov. Pat Quinn to take action on legislation that would provide tax breaks for a plant to be built in the Central Illinois town of Tuscola.

Originally, the newly formed company had hoped to choose between the Land of Lincoln and the Hawkeye State by June 1.

“We have a business decision we need to make,” said John Kinnamon, an Oklahoma-based consultant to Delaware-based Cronus Chemical, which also is considering a site in Mitchell County, Iowa.

The group apparently didn’t anticipate that legislative efforts to approve the $35 million in incentives wouldn’t be approved until May 31.

That has the company thinking it could make a decision by the end of this month.

“We’re very encouraged by the state’s action,” Kinnamon said.

But even that timeframe might be ambitious.

As of Friday morning, the legislation hadn’t been sent to the governor’s desk. The Senate has until June 30 to send it to Quinn. But even when that happens, the governor has another 60 days to sign it.

Given that he’s already said he’d support the measure, we’re guessing that he’ll want to have a big signing ceremony, which will take time to plan.

In other words, government often moves at a pace that’s different from business.

Minority report

With House Minority Leader Tom Cross being touted as a possible candidate for attorney general in 2014, speculation has been running rampant on who could be chosen to replace him as the top dog of the House GOP.

Topping the list of potential candidates are state Reps. Jim Durkin of Westchester and Tim Schmitz of Batavia.

Others receiving some mention include state Reps. Mike Tryon of Crystal Lake, Ron Sandack of Downers Grove, John Cabello of Machesney Park, Pam Roth of Morris and Dwight Kay of Glen Carbon.

“It’s hard to know who’s in and who’s out,” said state Rep. Keith Sommer, a Morton Republican.

State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, said he’d keep an open mind if approached, but he’s not actively pursuing the job.

West Point bound

The oldest son of state Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, is heading to the U.S. Military Academy this fall.

Jonathon Lee Righter, who graduated with honors this spring from Mattoon High School, learned he had been admitted to West Point earlier this year. In addition to stellar grades, he served as captain of the cross-country team and the track team.

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