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County votes to raise cigarette tax 82 cents per pack

Wednesday, February 04, 2004
Special to suffredin.org
by ABDON M. PALLASCH

Cook County commissioners voted Tuesday to plug a budget hole by hiking the tax on a pack of cigarettes from 18 cents to $1.

With the 98-cent state tax, a 39-cent federal tax and a 16-cent Chicago tax, that means taxes of $2.53 on every pack. Store owners warned they'll have to fire workers as county residents drive to Indiana to save $2 a pack.

The county's own revenue director said the hike likely would cause cigarette sales to plunge 59 percent, so the tax hike will bring in only an extra $32.7 million, about $25 million short of plugging the county's budget deficit.

CIGARETTE TAX HIKE

$2.40 Manufacturer's price

$1.00 Cook County tax*

$0.98 State of Illinois tax

$0.70 Store profit

$0.39 Federal tax

$0.16 City of Chicago tax

$5.63 Total

(*$4.81 FOR A PACK OF MARLBOROS AT A CHICAGO WHITE HEN TUESDAY, WILL COST $5.63 UNDER A TAX HIKE APPROVED TUESDAY BY COOK COUNTY COMMISSIONERS.)

When New York hiked cigarette taxes from 8 cents to $1.50 a pack in 2002, sales dropped 50 percent.

The plunge in cigarette sales will also blow holes in the budgets of Chicago and other cities that charge cigarette taxes, board member Forrest Claypool warned.

Commissioner Roberto Maldonado and Board President John Stroger said they supported the tax hike because it would save the lives of 50,000 youth who would not start smoking because of the higher price of cigarettes.

But opposition board members said they were calling Maldonado and Stroger's bluff by offering an amendment to dedicate all revenue from the tax hike to anti-smoking programs. Maldonado, Stroger and the other tax hike backers voted down the amendment, keeping the money for the general budget.

The key vote for the cigarette tax hike came from Commissioner Earlean Collins, who has sided with Republicans and opposition Democrats who want Stroger to cut "bloat" in the budget instead of passing new taxes.

Collins started the day criticizing Stroger for getting leaders in her district to lobby her in favor of his tax hikes. "What's happening to me should not happen to anybody. When you go out to my district and I have all these ministers and union leaders calling me, I'm going through some serious health screenings -- I don't need that kind of pressure."

Stroger and Finance Chairman John Daley had scheduled votes on both the cigarette tax hike and a quarter-percentage-point boost in the sales tax. Collins told Daley she would not vote for the sales tax, so they canceled that vote.

But Collins said she had always opposed smoking and would support a federal ban on smoking. She warned Stroger and Daley that she voted on the prevailing side and would move to reverse the vote if they did not take action on budget amendments she and other commissioners have offered.

Daley has scheduled a meeting to debate those amendments and pass the budget Feb. 23, just six days before the absolute deadline for approving the budget that was supposed to take effect Dec. 1.



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