How would Illinois give $300 million back?

January 27, 2011 2:54:42 PM PST
Governor Pat Quinn says major construction projects in Illinois will go on despite an appeals court ruling that struck down the state's $31 billion capital improvement program.

A stake in this legal tussle: a $31 billion capital program already underway -- bonds sold, contracts let, people hired. The attorney general will ask the Illinois Supreme Court to first put the brakes on Wednesday's appellate court ruling and then hear arguments to overturn it.

A mammoth, $300 million reconstruction project continues on Lower Wacker Drive even though the legislative act that made it possible was declared unconstitutional. Also, the state continues to collect higher fees for driver's licenses and titles. Those, too, are part of the same law that was declared unconstitutional by an Illinois Appellate Court on Wednesday.

How would the state even start to go about giving back the $300 million it has already collected?

"You know the computer work that would need to be done, and that sort of thing, it would be a major undertaking," said Dave Druker, Ill. secretary of state spokesman.

So despite the appellate court declaration that the state's capital plan is unconstitutional, it continues on all fronts as it did before the ruling.

The governor and other state leaders reject the notion that the "Capital Construction Bill" violated the single subject law that lawmakers can't logroll a potpourri of things -- like higher taxes on liquor, grooming products, launch video poker and privatize the state lottery -- all in one bill.

"There are a number of elements in that particular legislation, but all are devoted to creating jobs, so our argument is its under the single subject rule of the Illinois Constitution," Governor Pat Quinn said.

"As untidy as the legislature sometimes is, everything in there dealt with the revenues to pay for construction program, and I think the bill is constitutional, but we'll find out from the Supreme court whether I'm correct or not," Senator Kirk Dillard said.

The appellate court decision striking down the capital program was unanimous, which makes the state's legal challenge tougher.

"My prediction would be that the Supreme Court will take this case. It doesn't have to. It should. I think it should hear this case expeditiously, and I think it should stay the appellate court decision pending a speedy resolution of the case because this is throwing an entire state in more chaos than we were in before," said Harold Krent, dean, IIT- Kent College of Law.

There is bi-partisan support for the Capital Construction Act and the way it's funded. However, if the high court does find it unconstitutional, all the individual pieces parts would have to stand alone before legislators. The one piece that would have the most difficult time passing - according to leaders on both sides - is video poker.