On January 26, 2011, in Wirtz v. Quinn, Ill. App. Ct. Dckt. Nos. 1-09-3163 and 1-10-0344, an Illinois Appellate Court struck down legislation representing the basis for a multibillion dollar Illinois public works project. The court determined that the legislation violated the “Single Subject Rule” of the Illinois Constitution.  

The principal legislation invalidated by the court’s decision, Illinois Public Act 96-34, was originally introduced into the Illinois General Assembly as a five-page bill addressing the narrow subject of amending the Illinois estate and generation-skipping transfer tax. The original provisions of this legislation were subsequently removed from the bill, which was then amended to add provisions creating the Video Gaming Act, the Capital Spending Accountability Law, and amendments to the Illinois Lottery Law, State Finance Act, the Use Tax Act, the Service Use Tax Act, the Service Occupation Tax Act, the Retailer’s Occupation Tax Act, the Motor Fuel Tax Law, the University of Illinois Act, the Riverboat Gambling Act, the Liquor Control Act, the Environmental Protection Act, the Vehicle Code, and the Criminal Code. The legislation, as enacted, totaled 280 pages. Its multitude of revenue provisions, as signed into law by Governor Quinn in 2009, were designed to generate revenue that would be used to fund a $31 billion Illinois capital spending program on roads, bridges, high speed rail, other transportation, and education projects -- Illinois’ first capital spending plan in over a decade.

The court found that the “Single Subject Rule,” contained in Article IV, Section 8(d) of the Illinois Constitution, required that bills “be confined to one subject.” The court held that this rule was designed to preclude the legislative practice of “logrolling,” which the court defined as the “bundling less popular legislation with more palatable bills so that the well received bills would carry the unpopular ones to passage.” The court further held that the rule was designed to insure that “the legislature addresses the difficult decisions it faces directly and subject to public scrutiny” by limiting a bill to a single subject, and therefore permitting legislators to “better understand and more intelligently debate the issues presented by a bill.”

The court determined in applying the “Single Subject Rule” that while the term “subject” generally is construed liberally by courts in favor of the constitutionality of legislation, Public Act 96-34, nonetheless, clearly violated the rule. The court ruled that the wide range of topics in the legislation did not constitute a single subject because they did not have a “natural and logical connection.” The court found unconvincing the state’s argument that the varied provisions of the act fit within the broad category of “revenue.” In reaching this conclusion, the court relied on a previous Illinois Supreme Court decision in which that court had ruled that the “use of such a sweeping and vague category to unite unrelated measures would essentially eliminate the single subject rule as a meaningful check on the legislature’s actions.”

The Illinois Supreme Court in early March granted the State of Illinois’ petition for leave to appeal the appellate court’s decision, as well as the state’s motion for an accelerated docket. The briefing schedule for this case before the Illinois Supreme Court is set to run from March through May 2, 2011, with the parties to be notified of a date thereafter for oral argument.