08/01/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Pat Quinn, Lawmakers Agree on a Key Number in Illinois Doomsday Budget Slugfest

Governor Pat Quinn and Illinois General Assembly leaders reached agreement on a single number regarding the Illinois doomsday budget: it began Wednesday at 12:01 a.m.

Yep, 12:01 a.m. It was the only number to which they agreed. Everything else? Forget it.

Governor Quinn, House Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton, House Minority Leader Tom Cross, Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno and many rank-and-file lawmakers tied themselves in confused knots during many weeks over many of the key competing budget numbers and budget positions and budget plans.

Gov. Quinn today vetoed the only budget plan on the table--Senate Bill 1197--the Illinois doomsday budget. But Quinn's veto does not lessen the confusion. And--unfortunately--the Governor has bred much of that confusion.

Much of the budget confusion in the capitol has hovered over the most fundamental number--the budget deficit's size. It's been reduced to "eeny-meeny-miny-mo catch the budget deficit by the toe."

Here are an assorted of deficit estimates:

  • $11.6 Billion - Combined FY 2009 and Quinn 2010 FY 2010 introduced budget - March 2009
  • $12.2 Billion - Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability claimed Quinn underestimated the deficit by860 million.
  • $7.2 Billion - only FY 2010 - Quinn FY 2010 introduced
  • $9.2 Billion - FY 2010 Quinn estimate of legislature's FY 2010 version
  • $7.9 Billion - FY 2010 Quinn revision - June 2009 (few days ago)
  • $6.2 Billion - FY 2010 Senate Democratic Analysis - June 30, 2009
  • $2-3 Billion - FY 2010 State Senator Dave Syverson (R-Rockford)

Take your pick.

Syverson's estimate is dismissed even by his GOP colleagues as willfully ignorant. So that one can be tossed. But the rest of the numbers are in play. Still, there remains a vacuum of credibility and--whoosh--chaos and confusion are sucked in--like an industrial-size Hoover zeroing in on a hairball.

Among the remaining deficit number estimates, there exist large enough differences to drive significant policy choices and consequences depending upon the agreed number. A permanent 67% income tax increase? A permanent 50% tax boost? A temporary 50% tax bump? A $2.2 billion pension refinancing scheme? Quinn has supported all four options. And opposed several of those. More confusion.

If that is insufficient confusion to whet your budget whistle, try this for the budget term:

  • 12 month human service budget at 50% (SB 1197)
  • 12 month human service budget at 70%
  • 6 month human service budget at 100% - drawn from 12 months of revenue
  • 60 day budget patch at 100%
  • 30 day budget patch at 100%

Quinn prepared to sign the Illinois doomsday budget before he vetoed it by sending reduced contracts to human service providers across the state. Various lawmakers and leaders--Cross, Radogno and Cullerton--have tossed out the other options. Quinn has opposed and supported the 30-day version nearly simultaneously. Oy.

Speaker Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton today jointly announced a special legislative session for July 14 to override Quinn's budget vetoes--otherwise state employees will go unpaid--and try again to pry "new revenue" out of rank-and-file makers.

For any progress, the governor and lawmakers need to agree on more numbers than 12:01.

Tick, tock.