THE BLOG
08/16/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Good News: Pat Quinn Signs Illinois Budget; Bad News: Pat Quinn Signs Illinois Budget

The good news is that Illinois now has a regular fiscal year 2010 budget. The bad news is Illinois now has a fiscal year 2010 budget.

Wednesday night, the Illinois General Assembly approved the new Illinois budget and Governor Pat Quinn signed the financial beast.

The Illinois budget borrows $3.5 billion to pay the annual mandated state employee pension contribution. Simultaneously, the budget pushes more than $3 billion in payments owed to state services providers into next year. There is no income tax increase.

Still, Quinn and lawmakers left the budget unbalanced by $4 billion or more. Who knows just how much? Nice.

But there's more. At least 2,600 state workers--perhaps more--may still lose their jobs, and Quinn and lawmakers themselves are docked 12 days of pay--even in an out-of-whack "budget." Ouch.

At least the pension borrowing shovels $2.2 billion to social service providers. This money is intended to offset the 50% Illinois "doomsday" budget cuts that the legislature had previously handed to Quinn. However, Quinn and lawmakers decided to fund human services at only at an average of 86% of last year's budget.

Additionally, the budget mandates state agencies to set aside $1.1 billion total in "reserves"-- read "cuts" -which withholds appropriated money until a "review" later in the year. Budget "reserves" are a fiction. That money is almost never released.

Therefore, if state leaders start claiming that Illinois human services are being funded at 86% of last year's budget--a generous sounding figure during the Great Recession granted--one can credibly doubt the veracity of the claim.

Welcome to Illinois Doomsday Budget-Lite.

To manage this budget, House Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton, House Minority Leader Tom Cross, and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno agreed to confer unprecedented spending authority on Quinn to allocate the dwindled $26 billion pile--down from $30 billion last year--as he sees fit.

State agencies received lump sum appropriations, not detailed line item appropriations. The General Assembly declined to appropriate money to division, to program or to line items for the state agencies. Governor Quinn and agency directors, like Illinois Department Human Services Secretary Carol Adams, will need to make decisions on how the 86% funding levels will be distributed and whose ox will be gored and roasted and eaten.

"Essentially by doing this, we have made him the king of Illinois," Sen. Donne Trotter (D-Chicago) said.

Commenting on the budget deal, Quinn said, "This budget tonight is the best we can do to get our work done."

Cullerton, however, acknowledged that the "best" was not good enough.

"We're doing this because we have to do it. But it's wrong to do it, The General Assembly will reconvene in January to address our need for additional revenue."

However, there appears to be no agreement among Madigan, Cross, Cullerton, and Radogno at this time about the future shape of an income tax increase. Zero. Zilch. Zippo.

Cross and Radogno are actually giddy that they threw sand in the budgetary gears with their rope-a-dope budget negotiating demands, which included changing the primary date and the legislative redistricting process.

"It [the budget] avoids a tax increase," Radogno said.

It also avoids any sign of real leadership--an observation Radogno left unsaid.