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County tax target on track despite fewer smokers

Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Chicago Sun-Times

An extra $1 tax on a pack of cigarettes is driving smokers out of Cook County. But enough smokers are still paying as much as $70 a carton that county government is getting what it needs to help balance its budget.

That's according to revenue figures released Monday, showing the impact the new tax had in April and the first half of May.

With a budget expecting $20 million a month in cigarette taxes, the county got only $16 million in April. But halfway through May, the county already has received $13.5 million. That means fewer smokers are paying more for their smokes in Cook County, officials said.

Helping balance things was a $24 million haul in March -- largely a result of a county audit of all companies selling smokes and doing an inventory of their stock, just before the new tax kicked in.

'We have to watch this'

Still, county officials cautioned they won't have a clear picture on the impact of a $2 total in county taxes on a pack of cigarettes until later this summer.

"We have to watch this month by month," county revenue director Barbara Bruno told the board.

Commissioners are counting on about $240 million from cigarette taxes. They're also counting on more than $300 million from hospital patient fees -- though they're only on pace to generate $240 million.

The board already faces having to come up with more than $250 million in new funds in 2007 to help pay for new jail guards, increased salaries and cuts in federal funds for some programs.

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