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Some Illinois drivers could get $40 rebates

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

SPRINGFIELD — Millions of Illinois motorists could get rebates worth $20 or even $40 if a decision striking down Gov. Quinn’s state construction program is allowed to stand.

More than $173 million has been collected since the beginning of 2010 by Secretary of State Jesse White’s office through vehicle-fee increases Quinn and the General Assembly enacted to help underwrite the $31 billion state construction program.

Last week, a state appeals court struck down the construction program, contending that legislation authorizing video poker, partial lottery privatization, sales and liquor tax increases and fee hikes that were supposed to finance billions of dollars in borrowing was unconstitutional.

If the Illinois Supreme Court doesn’t overturn that ruling, White’s office will have to figure out some way to return the vehicle-fee increases to Illinois drivers.

“Assuming the Supreme Court upholds the Appellate Court, we would need to find out who had overpaid, and we’d have to give that information to the comptroller and treasurer for them to get checks back to the people,” White spokesman Dave Druker said.

The revenue package used to float construction bonds imposed a $20 increase in the price of state license-plate stickers that up to 9 million drivers have to purchase annually. That increase took effect in January 2010.

At the same time, there was an additional $20 increase in the cost of renewing a driver’s license, which between 1.5 and 2 million drivers do annually.

Though White is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit brought by Chicago Blackhawks owner and liquor distributor Rocky Wirtz, Druker said the secretary of state supports Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s efforts to stay the appeals court ruling and overturn the decision at the Supreme Court.

Asked about the potential for issuing rebate checks to Illinois drivers, a spokesman for Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka said her office had had “internal discussions about the different scenarios and potential ramifications of the court’s decision.”

On Monday, a lawyer for Wirtz and his family’s liquor distributorship, Wirtz Beverage Illinois, filed a motion with the state’s high court indicating they did not object to staying the appeals court ruling while the Supreme Court deliberates whether to hear the state’s case.

A stay allowing the state “some breathing time pending review to address alternative financing for the state projects seems to serve the public interest,” Wirtz’s legal team told the court. Wirtz is also an investor in Sun-Times Media,

The state has already issued $2.2 billion in bonds and collected $425 million in tax and fee increases under the 2009 construction program that the appeals court invalidated.

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