Illinois high court hears arguments over massive construction bill

May 18, 2011

The Illinois Supreme Court will decide the fate of billions of dollars worth of infrastructure projects.

Chicago Blackhawks owner and liquor distributor Rocky Wirtz sued the state over the way it was paying for a $31 billion construction program. Lawmakers legalized video poker, upped liquor taxes and imposed new vehicle fees to help pay for the statewide program.

Wirtz argues the package violated a requirement in the state constitution that says laws be confined to one subject. But Assistant Attorney General Richard Huszagh says funding construction is the one common subject.

"Chicago architect Dan Burnham famously once said, 'Make no little plans.'  The plaintiff's approach to the single subject clause appears to be the opposite - that the General Assembly can only make little plans," Huszagh said.

The entire infrastructure program is now in limbo. If the court sides with Wirtz, legislators may be asked to quickly re-approve separate funding components. Meanwhile, the state has already collected more than $480 million in new fees to pay for the capital bill. More than $72 million in higher liquor taxes have been funneled into a "protest fund," pending the outcome of the case, but it is still unclear what will happen to the rest of the money if justices strike down the law.

The Supreme Court could hand down a decision at any time.