SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn quickly dumped a plan Wednesday to hire a longtime aide as the state’s $85,000-per-year canoe czar.

Just hours after the hiring of Claude Walker was made public in a story first reported by Lee Enterprise’s Springfield bureau, Quinn’s administration cut him loose, saying the state’s financial problems are too large to take on new programs.

“Because of the importance and very severe situation with the state budget, at the request of the governor’s office, we rescinded the position,” Illinois Department of Natural Resources Director Marc Miller told members of House panel.

Miller’s comments came less than two hours after he had defended Walker’s hiring as the coordinator of the state’s new “Water Trails” program. His job would have been to promote canoeing and kayaking on the state’s waterways.

Miller said Walker’s experience as a communicator and his knowledge of boating made him a good fit for the post.

“We were looking for someone who can write and work on policy,” Miller said.

The position had not been advertised.

Walker, 57, has served as an advisor and spokesman to Quinn dating back two decades. He served as a spokesman for Quinn during his tenure as lieutenant governor. He also worked for Quinn when the governor was state treasurer in the early 1990s. And, he has worked on Quinn’s campaigns for various offices, including his latest bid for governor.

The hiring had caused a buzz at the Statehouse Wednesday, where lawmakers are grappling with a massive budget gap.

“It’s not a good time to be hiring a guy at that level. It’s the wrong time,” state Sen. Dale Risinger, R-Peoria, said prior to Walker’s ouster.

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