Illinois court tosses liquor taxes, video gambling

January 26, 2011 8:23:15 PM PST
The Illinois Appellate Court says Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to generate revenue from video gambling and higher liquor taxes is unconstitutional.

The ruling follows a lawsuit brought by Chicago Blackhawks owner and liquor distributor Rocky Wirtz.

Governor Quinn's $31 billion construction plan was dependent on revenue from video gambling, higher liquor and candy taxes, and privatizing the state lottery.

This decision, like Monday's appellate court decision on Rahm Emanuel, is a real jaw-dropper. The state's $31 billion capital program, with many already-started construction projects, is unconstitutional.

The legislation that gave birth to it began as a five-page narrow topic bill and then ballooned to 280 pages covering a variety of subjects that the court says are not logically connected.

It was a unanimous 3-0 vote authored by Appellate Judge Pat Quinn, who is no relation to Governor Pat Quinn, who says he is appealing.

The lawsuit was filed by liquor distributor and Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz, who argued that the law combining an increase in beverage taxes with video poker, with privatizing the state lottery, and with higher secretary of state fees was unconstitutional because it violates the single-subject rule.

That rule, as the appellate court writes, "is designed to prevent the passage of legislation that, if standing alone, could not muster the necessary votes for enactment."

The subject of a bill may be as broad as the legislature wants, the court says, "as long as the bill's provisions have a natural and logical connection."

Clearly, the appellate court does not see the connection; so, higher taxes on booze, candy and grooming -- for now -- are kaput.

So is the deal to privatize the lottery.

And so is video poker. That plan would have had thousands of video poker machines in bars and restaurants across the state. Opponents say there never was enough "light of day" public debate on it.

"I don't think this is gonna be the of the debate on video poker by any means, but it will I think be a lot harder for it to pass on its own," said Cook County Board member Bridget Gainer.

Certain to be unhappy with the court's decision are the dozens of vendor and manufactures who have applied for video poker licenses. Over 100 firms have each paid a $5,000 non-refundable fee.

Numerous capital construction projects have already been started, to the tune of billions of dollars, and they do not now have funding sources.

The governor's office issued a statement Wednesday afternoon, saying: "Capital projects already in progress will continue as expected." The statement said the state will appeal the appellate court's decision to the state Supreme Court.

Any break up of that bill makes its individual parts, particularly video poker, tougher to pass.

"Coming off of the 67 percent income tax hike that just passed, any tax increase right now is gonna be a tough fight," said Illinois State Senator Matt Murphy, (R)-Palatine.

Many legislators ABC7 contacted said they are stunned by the ruling. State Rep Lou Lang, a chief supporter of video poker, called it a troubling decision.

The attorney general will argue on behalf of the governor and the state on appeal that while there are different components to the bill, they're all funding mechanisms for the capital program, and that's the logical connection.