State’s top court hears arguments for scrapping $31B building plan
BY DAVE MCKINNEY Sun-Times Springfield Bureau Chief firstname.lastname@example.org May 17, 2011 6:10PM
Updated: August 31, 2011 12:37AM
SPRINGFIELD — Did the Illinois General Assembly violate the Constitution in passing a $31 billion construction program in 2009 that authorized video poker and raised liquor taxes and other fees?
Or, did Gov. Quinn and the bi-partisan coalition that crafted the state’s largest bricks-and-mortar program act properly?
Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office and a lawyer representing Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz and his family’s liquor distributorship, Wirtz Beverage Illinois LLC, debated those points before the Illinois Supreme Court Tuesday in a closely-watched case.
In a stunning blow to Quinn, Wirtz persuaded a three-member appeals panel to rule in February that the 2009 capital construction program was written too broadly and violated the single-subject clause of the state Constitution. That clause says a bill can only deal with one specific issue, not a multitude of them.
When it passed, the legislative package at issue was described as legislation dealing with “revenue.” Yet, it contained a requirement that the University of Illinois conduct a study on the effect on families that purchase lottery tickets. The link to “revenue” was questioned by the appeals court.
“Chicago architect Dan Burnham famously once said, ‘Make no little plans.’ The plaintiff’s approach to the single-subject clause appears to be the opposite, that the General Assembly can only make little plans,” Madigan lawyer Richard Huszagh told the court’s seven justices.
Wirtz lawyer Sam Vinson urged the court to keep the appeals court ruling intact, arguing the Legislature engaged in “logrolling in the worst possible way” in putting the package together.
“In this package of bills, for the first time, the Legislature tied together several bills and said each bill does not take effect unless the other bills take effect,” he said. “So the substantive bills imposing the tax do not take effect unless the appropriations bill takes effect.
“We believe what that does is that it means every legislator who has a project in the appropriations bill or who has something in the revenue bill, if he cares about that, he’s compelled to vote for both bills, all the projects and all the revenue increases. We don’t think that’s the way things should be done. That’s not a single subject,” Vinson said.
The Wirtz lawyer also argued that “vastly disproportionate” tax hikes for beer, wine and liquor – the increase for beer amounted to 4.6 cents per gallon, for example, while the tax on spirits like those marketed by Wirtz jumped by $4.05 per gallon — were unconstitutional.
Rocky Wirtz is an investor in the Sun-Times Media Group.
During the arguments, several justices asked the lawyers questions, including Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride and Justice Anne Burke who pressed how the lottery study related to the state construction program.
Huszagh said the lottery study had a “thematic” relationship to the construction program because of the Legislature’s desire to “try to make sure … the operations of the lottery don’t have a deleterious effect on Illinois families.”
The court did not make a decision Tuesday, leaving lawmakers at the Capitol without a clear sense as to whether they might have to re-enact the statewide construction program before a scheduled end-of-month adjournment.