Repeal of Construction Plan Worries Lawmakers

   By Diane S.W. Lee and Melissa Leu - (Illinois Statehouse News) - 1/30/2011 - Illinois state construction and building projects may be in for a long haul.
   An Illinois Appellate Court on Jan. 26 threw out the state’s multi-year, $31 billion capital program, leaving local lawmakers concerned.
   In addition to funding construction projects, Public Act 96-34 legalized video gaming in certain establishments, allowed for privatization of the state’s lottery, hiked taxes on such items as beverages and candy and increased liquor taxes. The court ruled that it was “void in its entirety.”
   W. Rockwell Wirtz, president of the Chicago-based alcohol wholesaler Wirtz Beverage Illinois, brought the case to the appeals court, alleging it violated the Illinois Constitution’s single subject rule.
   The single subject rule, also called the “uniformity clause,” requires that legislation dealing with appropriations be limited to one subject.
    One Illinois lawmaker flat out disagreed with the ruling.
   “I think the courts have this wrong. It’s clearly a single subject,” Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-Moline, said. “The single subject is raising capital for the state, so the state can move forward on economic development projects.”
   Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, said “Nothing is going to change in the end. I think the court is just saying their interpretation is that we need to follow a stricter single-subject rule.”
   The capital program was a major initiative of Gov. Pat Quinn’s first year in office, aimed at creating jobs and investing in the state’s infrastructure.
   State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, said he was disappointed with the court’s ruling on a measure he called a “jobs bill.”
   “When you now say that the funding in the legislation itself is unconstitutional, you put a choke hold on those jobs and the state and the economy,” Brady said. “This whole jobs bill … was directed to stimulate the economic engine of the state of Illinois and put people back to work in this high unemployment time.”
   The Illinois Attorney General’s office plans on filing an appeal and a motion for an immediate stay on Thursday, spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said. A stay will allow the program to continue as usual.
   Quinn appeared to be hoping for the best.
   “We would expect the Supreme Court to rule on the request for a stay in the very near future,” Quinn said in a written statement released Wednesday.
   The Legislature now faces two options — wait for the Supreme Court’s decision or break down the measure into smaller components and pass the plan separately when both chambers reconvene on Feb. 2.
   If that doesn’t work, lawmakers will need to look for a different funding source for capital projects, Rep. Jil Tracy, R-Mt. Sterling, said.
   “There [are] challenges — because there are different players of this General Assembly — but I’ve got to believe that across party lines, and across geographic lines, and everything else, we recognize that Illinois has got a crumbling infrastructure that so desperately needs attention,” Tracy said.
   But the clock is ticking.
   “We’re anticipating a spring construction season with projects that are being funded by this capital bill,” Brady said. “And that is of great concern to me, that there is now a roadblock that has been thrown up to move forward with this very needed jobs bill in the state.”
   Capital projects already in progress are expected to continue as scheduled, which is a relief to one southern Illinois lawmaker.
   “You got a real asset,” Sen. John Jones, R-Mount Vernon, said. “The governor has some discretionary movement around here, so he can use money out of his own revenue fund to keep the capital bill moving forward.”
   Jacobs echoed that concern.
   “Clearly raising revenue is never easy,” Jacobs said.
   Note: originally published Jan. 26, 2011. Story courtesy of Illinois Statehouse News.