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Illinois ‘Jobs Now!’ Stimulus Plan Upheld by Top State Court

Illinois Jobs Now!, the $31 billion economic stimulus package of Governor Pat Quinn, was upheld by the state Supreme Court in a ruling on the legality of the legislation that created the program.

The court’s decision today reversed a Jan. 26 ruling by an intermediate-level appellate panel that held the legislation creating the plan violated a state constitutional requirement that bills be limited to a single subject.

“What this means is our jobs recovery program can go forward, full speed ahead,” Quinn said today in a televised press conference.

The lower-court’s ruling derailed projects approved by the state legislature in 2009 and cast doubt on the future of economic-development plans that were part of the stimulus package.

Among those plans were investments in state roads, railways, schools and broadband Internet access, said Quinn, who said he wanted to be “the builder governor.”

The now-overturned decision had also blocked a revenue stream generated by higher liquor taxes, privatization of the state lottery and levies on video poker operations.

State, Federal Funds

The construction program was supported by a combination of state debt and federal and local matching funds. The state’s $13 billion portion of the project was backed by tax and fee increases, according to a news release on the program.

Objecting to the tax increases, W. Rockwell Wirtz, the owner of the Chicago Blackhawks hockey team, and his liquor distributorship, Wirtz Beverage Illinois, sued to block the program.

The Supreme Court on Feb. 1 put a hold on the lower-court ruling pending its review of the state’s appeal. Attorneys for Wirtz didn’t oppose the Quinn administration request.

“On the Act’s face, all of the provisions have a natural and logical connection to the single subject of capital projects,” the justices said in their unanimous 30-page ruling.

The Wirtz group, in an e-mailed statement issued by outside spokesman by Guy Chipparoni, said while it was disappointed by the outcome, it respected the court’s opinion.

“Our issue was not with the lawmakers, but the law,” Chipparoni said.

‘Wine and Spirits’

“We said from day one that the arbitrary taxes on wine and spirits were unfair and unconstitutional as was the manner in which this bill was passed. While we have the utmost respect for our state and its infrastructure needs, we have equal respect for Illinois residents, who as consumers, are now saddled with these unfair taxes,” he said.

A state judge in Chicago rejected the hockey team owner’s complaint in October 2009. A three-judge intermediate appellate panel overturned that ruling.

The Supreme Court, in today’s 7-0 ruling, said that “in the interest of judicial economy,” it was choosing to address and to reject the entirety of the Wirtz complaint and affirming the Chicago court’s original decision.

Jobs are the state’s top priority, Quinn said today.

“The job recovery law is our No. 1 way of fighting for jobs,” he said.

The case is Wirtz v. Quinn, 111903, Illinois Supreme Court (Springfield).

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