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  Cook County Hospital fills more outpatient prescriptions every day than are filled at 26 Walgreen's drug store combined.

Stroger proposes boosting cigarette tax; no property tax hike

Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Daily Southtown
by Jonathan Lipman

After warning of a property tax increase in the 2006 budget, Cook County Board President John Stroger said Monday he will instead propose doubling the county cigarette tax and creating a hotel tax.

"We have cut everywhere possible without impacting services," Stroger said in a news release. "But if we are to fulfill our mission ... we will need new revenues."

Budget planners reduced a deficit of $307 million to $95 million through increases in expected revenue, reduced funding for vacant positions and cuts on travel and overtime, Stroger spokeswoman Caryn Stancik said.

Stroger wants to fill that gap by doubling the county's tax on cigarettes from $1 to $2 per pack, and adding a 2 percent tax on hotel stays. He will present his budget, which is expected to be about $3 billion, to the county board Dec. 19

The tax on smokes, on the heels of a 20-cent increase for Chicago's 2006 budget, would increase total federal, state, county and city taxes to $4.05 per pack in the city.

With three board members running for county board president and all of them running for re-election, Stroger didn't have the votes to pass a politically poisonous property tax increase.

But Stroger will still likely see a battle over the hotel tax, which he proposed last year and board members rejected.

"It's just an unnecessary tax increase to sustain a government that's bloated with payrollers," said Commissioner Forrest Claypool (D-Chicago), one of the presidential candidates. "It would be a blow to the hospitality industry, which has just gotten back on its feet."

For the past two years, a group of anti-Stroger Democrats allied with Republicans has blocked Stroger's tax increases and budget plan. Many believe the election will make this year's budget talks even more intense.

"We would like to see the budget pass as introduced," Stancik said. "Nobody escaped these budget cuts. ... We're underfunding positions that we consider important."


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