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Cook County seeks cigarette tax hike
$1-per-pack less than Stroger's original plan

Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

After indicating late last we ek that he would raise it even higher, Cook County Board President John Stroger settled on proposing a $1-per-pack increase in the cigarette tax in his 2006 budget, which he unveiled Monday.

Stroger's negotiations Friday with Gov. Rod Blagojevich to bring in $20 million more in health-care funding to Cook County allowed for the smaller tax increase, aides said.

On Thursday, Stroger had indicated he would raise the tax $1.25 a pack.

Stroger appears to have the support from county commissioners to pass the increase, which would raise the county's cigarette tax to $2 per pack.

The tax hike, which would become effective March 1, is expected to generate $75 million next year. The increase would bring the total tax on a pack of cigarettes sold in Chicago to $4.05.

The $3.1 billion budget avoids an increase in the property tax for the seventh straight year. The budget is Stroger's 11th since he took office in late 1994.

He noted he has reduced the personnel headcount under his command each year.

The budget's $2.16 billion general fund is 1 percent larger than in the 2005 budget.

Although no one likes taxes, Stroger said, "the reality is that we have cut expenses to the bone and without some new resources we will be faced with service cuts."

The budget does not include any of the 668 new jail guards recommended in a study issued last week. Stroger said he hoped to work with the parties in a federal consent decree that governs jail conditions to systemically address the issue.

Under pressure from U.S. District Judge George Marovich, the Cook County Board added 283 new jail positions, most of them guards, in the 2005 budget.

The budget proposal now goes to the Finance Committee, where hearings will be held with department heads and elected county officials before a final vote is taken.

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