The State of Illinois is in a financial mess.
Revenue is down while state spending and borrowing is up. That has created a $13 billion budget hole that threatens to sink all of us in a sea of red ink.
Legislative leaders from both parties predict deep cuts in some state programs and significant layoffs.
So with all this talk of the need for belt-tightening, a FOX Chicago News investigation discovered it may be time for the legislature to point a finger at itself.
On the Democratic side, we discovered 34 employees under the control of Speaker Mike Madigan jumping on and off the state payroll to do political work.
And on the other side of the aisle?
The Republicans are doing the very same thing as Democrats. We discovered 13 staffers taking a leaves of absence and being farmed out to do political work.
Minority leader Tom Cross defended the practice.
"You get young kids that come to work for you that like politics and like policy and say I want to get involved in campaigns," Cross said. "And that's okay."
As Cross explained, it's only okay -- and ethical -- if there is a distinct line between state work done at taxpayer expense and political work done off the state payroll.
"We passed a law several years ago, an ethics bill, that made it very clear that you can't do any political work while on state time," he said. "Which would seem to be the obvious thing."
Like the Democrats, we also found Republican staffers getting paychecks from campaigns while working fulltime for the state.
Leader Cross's chief of staff Matthew O'Shea earned $140,000 in his state salary, but also collected $12,000 from the Republican party.
"He does political work, he likes it he want to do it," Cross said of O'Shea's two jobs. "It's over and above his state work."
But there's no explanation for another case uncovered by FOX Chicago Investigates. In July, 2008, house Republicans hired a pair of policy analysts to work for the state. After only two weeks on the job, they jumped off the state payroll to go work for the Republican party until after the November election.
So why put someone on the state payroll for two-weeks? Cross said he did not know the specifics of those two hirings.
Former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins chaired the Illinois Reform Commission, which fought unsuccessfully to limit campaign contributions from legislative leaders. Collins said this political moonlighting leaves him to wonder if people are being hired to serve government or political masters.
"When one has the ability to control the dollars as well as the people that's really a one-two punch that can change the dynamic of a race," he said.
Ultimately, this practice is all about control and consolidating power.
When Democratic St. Rep. Dan Burke found himself in a tough race this year, Madigan told Burke to fire his campaign manager, and sent in state worker Tom Wogan to run Burke's campaign.
Republicans also gave employees time off for the 2010 primary and paid them more than $50,000 dollars for campaign work.
Election attorney Rich Means has battled state staffers on the campaign trail and says the ability to assign armies of state workers to political races gives legislative leaders a hammer.
"What it does is give all the power to the legislative leaders," Means said. "It stifles political dissent within the political parties. It stifles independence in the legislature. It just closes the system down."
And the only one watching over the process -- are the lawmakers themselves.