The budget - if you can call it that - that passed the General Assembly last week has as much as a $5-billion hole in it, borrows more than $7 billion from Wall Street and state vendors, disguises huge cuts to some private social-service agencies with 87-percent funding for others, and sets up the state for a surefire disaster next fiscal year.

Break out the party hats.

There is just no way on Earth that you can call that budget "balanced," or "serious-minded." It is, at best, a punt until next year. Actually, it's more like a blocked punt with a big loss of yardage.

"You guys are going to have to come up with a new conspiracy theory," Attorney General Lisa Madigan told Rockford Register-Star columnist Wally Haas last week about her decision to go for re-election and forgo runs for governor or U.S. Senate.

"I had it from a pretty good source as recently as Friday that she was going to run [for governor]," state Senator Brad Burzynski (R-Clare) told Haas about Ms. Madigan, adding: "It makes me wonder: What's [House Speaker Michael] Madigan's end game?"

So many people have assumed that Mike Madigan had sent this legislative session into overtime to somehow help his daughter become governor that they neglected to remember his long history as the House speaker.

Former House GOP leader Lee Daniels summed it up best to me not long ago: "Mike Madigan is Mike Madigan. He's one of the brightest leaders the state has ever had, but he's Mike Madigan. He's always been the way he is today."

As with any state legislative overtime session and possible government shutdown, "job one" right now is making sure somebody else gets the blame.

Last week, Governor Pat Quinn dramatically vetoed an appropriations bill and then held a press conference to lay full blame for the overtime deadlock at the General Assembly's feet. The bill, he said, would create too many hardships for social-service agencies, spark never-ending lawsuits, prevent his administration from hiring much-needed contractors, etc.

Quinn also blamed House Speaker Michael Madigan for the impasse over extending the budget by a month or so to help buy more time to cut a deal.

Unbeknownst to many, Madigan was still in Springfield during Quinn's press conference, so it was quite a surprise when he announced his own presser shortly after Quinn finished talking to reporters.

Every Republican governor this state has had in the past 40 years has raised taxes.

Republican legislators and most of their leaders have always been involved with those tax hikes.

So it's probably not fair that nobody bats an eye when every Republican candidate for governor -- announced and unannounced -- is allowed by the media to get away with saying that taxes shouldn't be raised to balance the state's horribly deficit-ridden budget.

Usually when polls are taken about tax hikes, the respondents are "informed" about the benefits of raising more government money, whether it's for education, public services, or what have you. So, not surprisingly, those polls regularly show lots of support for tax increases.

But a recent poll of 800 Illinois voters taken this month on behalf of the Illinois Coalition for Jobs, Growth, & Prosperity, a business group, only asked whether Illinoisans favored raising taxes to balance the state's budget.

Because the state is in such a deep hole, that's pretty much all any tax hike will go for anyway - and it won't even fully accomplish that. And since most people don't pay a great deal of attention to state government, that's all they probably know about the tax-hike plan anyway.

So the results probably won't surprise you.

It's tough to find people who truly believe that Governor Pat Quinn will ultimately pull the trigger and give the go-ahead to draconian budget cuts in the coming fiscal year to force a tax hike. But his people insist it's coming, and the administrative planning does appear to be moving forward with all deliberate speed.

The governor has basically three choices.

Almost every reporter who covered the unveiling of new budget-cutting recommendations by the governor's Taxpayer Action Board last week claimed the "TAB" had found a half-billion dollars in reductions for the coming fiscal year. It was reported that way because that's what the board's chair, Illinois Taxpayers Federation President Tom Johnson, said.

Johnson's comment demonstrate how amorphous, politically difficult, and fiscally suspect many of these proposals really are. If you do the math, the board's report actually claims budgetary savings this coming year could be as high as $1 billion if all its recommendations are implemented.

While reform groups, newspaper editorial boards, Republicans, and others blasted a campaign-finance-reform bill passed by the General Assembly last week, there were a couple of big surprises that went almost unnoticed.

For instance, powerful leaders of statehouse special interest groups said they would be hobbled by the bill.

The legislation not only caps the amount of money that political action committees (PACs) can give to candidates; it also caps the cash that PACs can raise from their own members -- an almost unheard of limit on political activity.

PACs are limited from accepting any contributions over $10,000 a year from "natural persons" and can't take more than $20,000 per year from corporations, labor unions, and associations.

The new rule would slam corporate PACs such as the Associated Beer Distributors of Illinois, according to President Bill Olson, who testified against the legislation during the Senate Executive Committee last week. Olson's PAC is one of the most influential and wealthy in the state, but its success relies on a relatively small number of large contributions from its members. Several other business groups are in the same situation.

PACs would also be severely limited on what are called "in-kind" donations. Quite a few groups, particularly labor unions, don't just give money to candidates. They also assign paid staff to campaigns, run phone banks, do mailers to their own members, and even air TV ads. But the bill is written in a way that would include in-kind donations in a PAC's $10,000 annual-campaign-contribution cap to candidates. So, most of that will apparently end.

The legislation allows only a "natural person" to make independent expenditures on behalf of candidates, so that option -- which is used extensively under the federal campaign system -- would not be available to PACs and other groups in Illinois.

By severely limiting spending activities, the hugely powerful legislative leaders will be able to more thoroughly control the message they want delivered to voters and prevent outside interference in campaigns.

Groups such as the pro-choice Personal PAC spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on direct mail and other advertising during election cycles to define candidates as pro-choice or anti-abortion. That independent spending has made Personal PAC one of the most feared political forces in the state. But much of the group's spending would likely be banned by this new legislation, unless it, and others, can find a way around the law.

Republicans blasted the bill because they said it was designed to strengthen the already powerful legislative leaders. They have a point. Besides the PAC limitations, the bill allows leaders such as the House speaker and the Senate president to make unlimited in-kind contributions. Their cash donations would be limited to $90,000 a year, but that means a Senate incumbent with a four-year term could still receive as much as $360,000 in cash from his or her leader.

The use of annual limits in the bill also came under fire by reformers.

Campaign-contribution caps are often criticized as unfair to challengers because they limit how much money they can raise against incumbents who often have far more ties to the monied interests. On the federal level, though, contributions are capped per election cycle. For instance, PACs can only give $5,000 to a federal candidate for a primary race, even if that primary is for a U.S. Senator who won't run again until five years from now.

But under this state legislation, the caps are annual. That means a sitting governor can raise $10,000 every year for four years from a single PAC. Because his or her challenger wouldn't likely gear up to run until the year before an election, a challenger would only get two, at most, bites from the same PAC apple, putting that person at a distinct disadvantage.

Some of the bill is quite good. But these annual caps are a horrible abuse of power by incumbents.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax (a daily political newsletter) and

At the same time that Governor Pat Quinn is pushing the General Assembly to pass major ethics reforms and solve a horribly complicated $12-billion budget deficit, his campaign committee has been calling top Statehouse groups to set up private meetings with the governor.

The asking price for the exclusive meetings? $15,000.

But the program may soon be shut down after questions were raised about at least the appearance of impropriety, particularly in the wake of ousted Governor Rod Blagojevich's "pay to play" excesses.

It's been clear from the beginning that Governor Pat Quinn muffed his budget rollout.

Instead of stressing the billion dollars or so in cuts he made and the additional cuts he might be open to, Quinn has repeatedly stressed the need for a 50-percent increase in the income-tax rate and has flatly rejected additional budget reductions.

Polling conducted for the Senate Democrats reportedly shows voters want the exact opposite approach. First, make the cuts, then increase taxes if and only if they are absolutely necessary.

So Quinn hasn't made it any easier to wrap up the General Assembly's business by May 31 and balance a budget that has a hole somewhere in the neighborhood of $12 billion.