By Benjamin Yount Illinois Statehouse News
SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Supreme Court’s decision is paving the way for billions of dollars in statewide road construction projects and the thousands of jobs they will produce.
The state’s high court delivered a much-anticipated — and as Quinn described “landmark” — ruling Monday in Wirtz vs. Illinois
, which challenged the constitutionality of Illinois’ $31 billion road, bridge and school building plan.
The justices unanimously agreed that the 2009 legislation authorizing the construction work is constitutional. W. Rockwell Wirtz, president of Wirtz Beverage of Illinois LLC, the state’s largest liquor distributor, said in his lawsuit that because lawmakers paid for the capital projects with revenue from new taxes on liquor, wine and beer as well as new driving fees and legalize video poker, the legislation was not focused on a single subject.
In the court’s opinion, Justice Anne Burke wrote: “The various provisions have a natural and logical connection.” She added that the lawsuit did not have the “smoking gun” that would have made the 2009 construction legislation unconstitutional.
The ruling allows 52,000 people to continue working on construction project this summer, Quinn said, just a portion of the hundreds of thousands of jobs he estimates will be created through the five-year construction program.
Tom Villanova, president of the Chicago & Cook County Building & Construction Trades Council, which represents thousands of construction workers in and around Chicago, said the recession has devastated the state’s construction economy. A different ruling could have halted billions of dollars in construction projects under way in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.
The high court’s ruling not only affects construction projects, but it allows Illinois to use liquor tax revenue that was being held as the legal challenge made its way through the courts.
The governor did not specify how that money would be spent.
In addition, the state now can speed up efforts to set up a single legal video poker machine because of Monday’s ruling.
With Monday’s ruling, Quinn and lawmakers do not need to hold a special session of the Legislature on the construction plan.