Why are most people law-abiding? Why does anyone obey the law? Is it because they fear the penalties for breaking it? They may, but that’s not the reason. No, most people obey the law because they believe it’s generally reasonable and fairly applied, and that it’s in everyone’s best interests to be law-abiding.
The alternative is unappealing: anything goes, every man for himself, might makes right, survival of the fittest, chaos and savagery.
But what happens when the law no longer seems reasonable or seems to be applied unfairly, when there appears to be one law for the general public and a different law for an elite? What happens, for instance, when lawmakers set themselves above the law and exempt themselves from it?
That’s the situation we have here in Illinois, where our legislators habitually engage in profligate spending, run deficits annually, and add to our state debt year after year – despite the fact that our state constitution prohibits such behavior.
John Tillman of the Illinois Policy Institute has had enough of this lawlessness. Last month, in Sangamon County Circuit Court in Springfield, he filed a petition to block the state from continuing to pay off the “structural debt” bonds issued in 2003 and 2017 ($14 billion of debt).
Tillman contends that the two bond issues are illegitimate, because the State Debt Clause of the amended 1970 Illinois Constitution permits the state to take on long-term debt only for “specific purposes” limited to capital improvements, such as roads, bridges, and public buildings. Issuing bonds to fund annual budget deficits is “unconstitutional and unenforceable.”
According to Tillman, “Debt service on unconstitutional debt is a clear misuse of public funds…. The State issued the challenged 2003 and 2017 bonds for the general purposes of deficit financing, refunding debt, and market speculation, each of which does not satisfy the ‘specific purposes’ requirement.”
Will Sangamon County Associate Judge Jack Davis II hold Gov. Pritzker and other state officials accountable to the law, or will he endorse their self-exemption from it?
We shall see.