In 2016, Illinois voters approved the Safe Roads Amendment to the Illinois Constitution. The Safe Roads Amendment requires that revenues derived from transportation taxes only be spent on transportation related expenses. The Safe Roads Amendment was added as Section 11 of Article IX of the Illinois Constitution.
Cook County, a home rule unit, has been diverting several taxes relating to transportation (gasoline tax, wheel tax, etc.) towards non-transportation related expenses. Instead of using those revenues for transportation purposes, as required by the Safe Roads Amendment, Cook County had been diverting those revenues to its Public Safety Fund. Several road contractor associations filed suit, alleging that Cook County was violating the Safe Roads Amendment by diverting these revenues to its Public Safety Fund. The associations sought to enjoin the County from spending transportation revenues on any non-transportation related purpose.
The County moved to dismiss the lawsuit, alleging, among other arguments, that the Safe Roads Amendment did not limit its home rule powers, and therefore the County was not bound to follow the Amendment. The County relied on the language of Article VII, Section 6(a) of the Illinois Constitution which governs the powers of home rule units. Section 6(a) states as follows:
Except as limited by this Section, a home rule unit may exercise any power and perform any function pertaining to its government and affairs, including, but not limited to, the power to regulate for the protection of the public health, safety, morals and welfare, to license; to tax; and to incur debt.
The County claimed that because the Safe Roads Amendment did not specifically limit home rule powers under Section 6(a), the County was not bound to comply with the Safe Roads Amendment.
The Court agreed, noting that the language of Section 6(a) of Article VII specifically states that home rule powers can only be limited “by this Section.” The Court found that a provision contained in another section of the Constitution, such as the Safe Roads Amendment contained in Article IX, cannot limit home rule powers, as only Section 6(a) of Article VII can do so. Following that logic, the Court noted that the drafters of the Safe Roads Amendment had “a ready, straightforward, specifically prescribed means” to limit home rule powers (i.e., under Section 6(a) of Article VII), but the drafters chose not to use those means. So, Cook County’s home rule powers are not constrained by the Safe Roads Amendment. The Court also cited the fact that the ballot summary for the Safe Roads Amendment prepared by the Secretary of State specifically disclaimed any limitation or alteration of home rule powers.
While an appeal of this decision is almost certain, the central holding of the case could have significant implications for home rule units. If the decision is upheld, there would be precedent for home rule units to enact policies that conflict with the Illinois Constitution, unless such powers are expressly limited in Article VII, Section 6.
Post Authored by Kurt Asprooth, Ancel Glink