Wirtz accuses state of playing shell game with tax funds

February 28, 2011 4:56:48 PM PST
In this Intelligence Report: There was a development late Monday in the continuing fight over Illinois' $31 billion capital bill that has moved from the statehouse to the courthouse.

Compared to political standoffs under way in Wisconsin and Indiana that have drawn thousands of protesters, this Illinois case is much more tame. It is a one-man protest against heavy-handed legislators in the form of a court challenge.

But this one man is named Wirtz, and he is alleging that state legislators are playing a shell game with hundreds of millions of dollars.

Rocky Wirtz is best known to the public-at-large as owner of the Chicago Blackhawks. But he also runs the Wirtz family liquor distribution empire, and it is under that title that Wirtz filed a lawsuit challenging the state's $31 billion capital spending bill, claiming that it placed an unconstitutional tax on wine and spirits.

An appellate court overturned the law last month, but Illinois Governor Pat Quinn appealed, and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said that to scrub the 2009 capital bill would "wreak havoc on critical state operations and finances."

State officials claimed all the tax money collected under the capital bill so far was to be used for capital projects such as roads and buildings.

But in a Supreme Court filing Monday afternoon Wirtz lawyers added a new wrinkle, calling that untrue, claiming that the funds collected so far have been substantially used for general revenue, not just capital projects; $402 million collected in the past 14 months, Wirtz contends, intended for a special capital revenue fund; but the $249 million has already been transferred to general revenue fun; and the money could be used for "any kind of general purpose."

While the Illinois Supreme Court decides what to do with this case, the General Assembly had been expected to address some of the underlying difficulties with both the projects and the funding. That hasn't happened.

In Monday's filing, Wirtz attorneys note that tens of millions of dollars are still being collected, and they suggest that the state shell game is continuing.