Court Rules Ill. Public Works Plan is Legal
(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)
Illinois' Supreme Court has ruled that a statewide construction program is constitutional. This reverses an appellate court ruling that threw the $31 billion plan into doubt.
The case involves a plan lawmakers approved in 2009. They decided to pay for the construction by raising taxes on liquor and candy, as well as legalizing video gambling at bars and truck stops.
The projects have created construction jobs across Illinois.
In the much anticipated final ruling on the legislation, all seven justices sided with Gov. Pat Quinn and the bipartisan leadership in the legislature, which endorsed the plan.
Justice Anne Burke wrote that "capital projects" - including those for roads, schools and bridges - is a "legitimate single subject." Burke added that the rest of the bill - including new taxes and expanded video gambling to pay for the projects - have a "natural and logical connection to that subject."
Governor Pat Quinn expressed his gratitude for the ruling.
"It was enacted by the legislature, signed by the Governor - the executive branch, upheld by the judicial branch," Quinn said. "Now we have a law now that's a model for building in our state, and in every other state."
Union officials, like AFL-CIO President Michael Carrigan, say Illinois workers should welcome a court ruling.
Carrigan said the court's decision protects a program that puts Illinois "solidly at the forefront'' in job creation by keeping construction workers, manufacturers, and suppliers doing the kind of work that moves a community forward.
"When you sit down with the various communities, the regions, their economic development arm, practically every one of those councils as part of what they need for their community to go forward is some kind of infrastructure improvement," Carrigan said. "Whether it's widening two lanes to four lanes, whether it's a bypass, a bridge."
James Sweeney of the International Union of Operating Engineers said the ruling removes "a black cloud'' hanging over jobs that support hundreds of thousands of people.
The lawsuit was brought by Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz, who also owns a liquor distributorship. He argued the law was unconstitutional that it increased the tax on liquor by more than $4 a gallon while the new tax on beer went up less than five cents. Wirtz's attorneys also alleged the package violated a requirement that laws stick to a single subject.
The Illinois Supreme Court's decision may have an impact on how legislators draft future bills, according to University of Illinois political science professor Jim Nowlan.
The court unanimously decided that the package of different tax increases and gambling expansion to pay for the program did not violate a rule that bills only cover one subject, but Nowlan said the argument over just what constitutes a single subject is not over.
"The revenue increases, which were of various types, were all necessary and pertinent to support the capital construction," Nowlan said. "I think the single subject requirement of the constitution will be revisited in the future as suggested by this trail of litigation."
Nowlan said the courts are still refining the definition of a "single subject," and legislators may try again to wrap future topics together under one overarching objective like capital construction.