Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Cook County Approves Cigarette, Gun Taxes in Budget

County estimates $40 million in new revenue

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Hike in revenue could bring in as much as $40 million in the face of a $240 million budget deficit. Charlie Wojciechowski reports.

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The price of cigarettes, gambling and guns are all going up in Cook County thanks to the board's 16-1 approval Friday of the 2013 budget. 

Board President Toni Preckwinkle estimates a $1 hike on each pack of cigarettes as well as new taxes on guns and slot machines could generate as much as $40 million in the face of a $240 million budget deficit.

"The amount of the county budget has been reduced drastically, so I do believe that we are headed in the right direction," said Commissioner Jeff Topolski.

The cigarette hike will start March 1 and increase the tax to $6.67 in Chicago, pushing the cost of cigarettes in the city to more than $10. It makes cigarettes the second most expensive in the country behind New York, which charges a $6.86 tax.

The county's finance committee voted in favor of it, and Commissioner William Beavers was the only holdout in the board's approval.

"I don't know that any of us agree with all of this budget, but this is substantially the identical to the one that you introduced, which has only gotten better from there," said Commissioner John Fritchey.

While convenience stores and smoke shops near the county border say the hike will push business away, Preckwinkle estimates it could generate up to $26 million per year. The money will be redirected into the county's public health system, and Preckwinkle hopes it will cause a drop in the number of young smokers.

Other measures include a controversial "violence tax" that charges an additional $25 for every gun purchased. Preckwinkle said the county can't afford the current state of violence.

"Gun violence is a real problem for us," she said. "It's a problem for us in our criminal justice system and it's a problem for us in our health care system, and I make no apologies for the proposal."

Preckwinkle said acute care for the average shooting victim cost taxpayers $52,000 because nearly 70 percent of the victims don't have health insurance.

The move follows a violent Chicago summer, when some weekends left multiple people killed and dozens others injured in shootings. The city's murder rate is up 25 percent, and the Cook County Jail is near capacity with 9,000-plus inmates.

The gambling tax will impose $1,000 annually on slot machines in the county and $200 on video gambling machines. Rivers Casino in Des Plaines would be affected as well as establishments that approved video gaming.

Preckwinkle last week revised her proposal to tax the machines. Originally she wanted to charge an $800 annual tax on every single machine in the county, but toned it down so those smaller shops would get a break and the bigger entities pick up the tab.

"Our view was that we didn't want to impact the small, neighborhood businesses and that the casinos could well afford it," Preckwinkle said.

Mayor issues remain for the county, including pension reform.

"The budget was fine, but it ignores the fact that we have a 57 percent funded pension plan. That's the elephant in the room. Springfield has to make those changes," said Commissioner Bridget Gainer.

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