I've always found elections to be fascinating events that are fun to follow.

But somehow, I'm beginning to think there will be a collective national sigh of relief once this one is over. All indications point to a real mud-slinger.

Righteous indignation reigns in Washington on such things as steroids in baseball. Then, out of nowhere, comes this gay marriage issue. Do we need to protect the sanctity of the institution or the sanctity of true love? Give me a break. As with so many issues, the real protection we need is from the zealots on each extreme.

But it seems to me there's a real concern here for employers. From health insurance benefits, to pensions, to family leave-how the gay marriage issue plays out will impact employers. That potential doesn't have its rightful role in the debate.

If an issue impacts employers, it impacts jobs. Unfortunately, that cause-and-effect relationship seems to be lost on the powers that be in Illinois.

While the national debate about jobs rages over the next few months, we can't lose sight of the rapidly deteriorating situation in Illinois. It's out of hand. It's getting impossible to pick up a newspaper and not see some reference to what's happening here.

The latest article was an eye-opener.

Annual surveys by moving companies-Allied Van Lines and United Van Lines-provide an interesting look at where people are moving from and where they're moving to. Surprise, surprise, Illinois is right there. Both companies say that when people in Illinois move, more than 60 percent of them move out of state.

That's enough to give us the dubious distinction of being the No. 1 spot on the Allied list. It shows that a higher percentage of people (60.2 percent) are leaving Illinois than any other state. In one year, we've moved from third to first on the list. What an honor.

Internal Revenue Service figures show similar results. From 1999 through 2002, 85 Illinois counties experienced a net loss of wage earners. Overall, that translates into a loss during that time of $6.3 billion in taxable income. Multiply that by the state income tax rate, and you're talking real money.

Again, it's no surprise when the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce notes that Illinois has one of the worst job-loss rates in the nation. More importantly, we outpace our neighboring states.

Why is no secret. Among other things, the current administration in Springfield (sorry, Chicago) never met a fee it didn't like-to raise.

Take a quick glance at the Chamber's Web site (www.ilchamber.org), and you'll see a list of state fees being raised this year. If you need any proof of the arbitrary and capricious nature of these raises, notice that a doubling of the fee seems to be standard procedure.

Those we send to Springfield must learn that such decisions can't be made in a vacuum. Political decisions can have an economic price, and the decisions being made in Illinois are exacting a steep price on the state.

I was taken by Chamber President Doug Whitley's recent suggestion that maybe we stop calling ourselves "businesses" and say we're "employers" because we provide jobs. As Whitley put it, "We are not the enemy."

From now until the election, we're going to hear a lot about jobs. All well and good. It's a legitimate issue. But let us-and our elected officials-not lose sight of what's happening here. IBI