OFF THE WIRE
Supreme Court OKs fund 'sweeps' to balance state budget.
GateHouse News Service Posted
SPRINGFIELD -- A recent Illinois Supreme Court ruling allows legislators and the governor to sweep money from special state funds and use it to bolster the state’s general fund, but Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration said it has no plans to do so in the next budget year.
Justices voted 6-1 last week that it was legal for then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich to sweep $1.2 million from the Cycle Rider Safety Training Fund after a 2004 law passed by lawmakers allowed him to do so.
The state transfers a percentage of motorcycle registration fees into the fund each year in order to provide a safety training program. In August, the fund held approximately $10.8 million, according to the court’s opinion, which was written by Justice Anne Burke.
ABATE of Illinois, a motorcyclist advocacy group, sued, arguing that the Cycle Rider Safety Training Fund, is an irrevocable private trust. The group argued that the fund might contain federal and private funds as well as state revenue and that it all became private once deposited.
The court disagreed, saying there was no evidence that private or federal money was deposited into the fund.
“Plaintiffs wrongly characterize the funds which enter the (fund) as private money,” Burke wrote. “It is undisputed that all of the monies in the (fund) have come from the legislative appropriation of a portion of the registration and licensing fees paid to the state by motorcyclists each year for the privilege of operating their motorcycles on the road of this state.
“Our legislature cannot create an irrevocable trust with public money.”
Chief Justice Thomas Kilbride dissented, saying he was not sure all of the money in the fund is from the state. The court has ruled previously that it is illegal to sweep federal funds out of special state funds for use in the state’s general fund, which is basically the checkbook out of which Illinois pays its bills.
“We simply do not know, based on the briefs and record in this case, whether the fund contains any private or federal moneys,” Kilbride wrote. “I believe this court is making a grave error in declaring that the sweeps were constitutional without additional fact-finding.”
An attorney for ABATE did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
Sweeping special funds was a controversial way to deal with budget deficits during the Blagojevich administration. The court’s ruling, its first on the subject, opens the door to more such sweeps.
However, Kelly Kraft, budget spokeswoman for Gov. Pat Quinn, said the administration does not plan to employ sweeps to bolster the general fund. The state has borrowed money from the funds, but has to pay that back.
“There are not any fund sweeps in this budget,” Kraft said. “Governor Quinn has ended the practice of sweeping funds that began prior to him becoming governor. Governor Quinn is against fund sweeps and has worked to end the practice.”