Gov. Pat Quinn's office said the widely reported 86 percent funding level for state human services in the new Illinois budget signed by Quinn is purely "speculative."
Elizabeth Austin, the communications director at the Governor's Office of Management and Budget, said Friday the 86% figure -- which is currently swirling and bobbing in the media -- is only speculative because in addition to the $2.3 billion the legislature committed to human services, there is $1.2 billion available to the Quinn to spend at his "discretion."
Moreover, Austin noted that agency directors were still preparing budget plans for submission to the governor's office, so the funding level is unknown.
Austin refused to speculate on whether any of the $1.2 billion may be allocated to human services, only to repeat that the governor could spend that dough at his "discretion."
That emphasis on "discretion" is enough of a signal, however, to human service lobbyists: start your engines boys and girls.
Additionally, Austin was unable to clarify whether and what portion the $1.1 billion in budget reserves -- which House Democrat budget documents refer to as "mandated" reserves until new revenue materializes this year (cue the flying pigs) -- are included in the estimated 86% human services funding level, except to reiterate that agency budget plans were in formation.
What Austin could confirm, however, is that the state -- with a $3.9 billion bill backlog from last year -- is now on six-month bill payment cycle. Submit a bill on July 17, 2009; expect payment on January 17, 2010. Ouch.
With those financial institutions formerly known as banks shrinking and shriveling credit lines, that six-month stretch will almost certainly drive many social service agencies into bankruptcy. Poof.
Of the new Illinois budget's plan to push $3 billion in money owed to state service-provider payments into next year, one state human services association estimated that of that amount, $1.5 billion would be money owed to human-services providers. Austin was unable to confirm that number.
Whatever the human services spending percentage may be, Quinn's real -- and thankless -- job is to cut the budget. A lot.
"The governor is expected to reduce spending by about $2 billion and the legislature granted him the authority," said Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan.
So, regardless of the $1.2 billion discretionary money given to Quinn, his bigger problem is developing budget plans that cut $2 billion from the budget in the next 10 days or so. And his biggest problem is bearing the bad news to Illinois voters.
Quinn himself acknowledged the personal political risk in comments made Friday in a Chicago Tribune story by Ray Long and Rick Pearson.
"I got the honor of cutting the budget by over a billion dollars. Most of the legislators didn't want to attach their names to those cuts," Quinn said. "That"s my job. I've got the jacket."
Good luck, Governor.