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Preckwinkle Budget Proposes Cigarette Tax Hike

Thursday, October 18, 2012

by Lisa Balde & Lauren Petty

Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle targeted smokers, gamblers and gun owners in her proposed 2013 spending plan, unveiled Thursday.


To help close a $268 million budget gap, Preckwinkle introduced a $1-per-pack proposed cigarette tax hike along with a nickel tax for every bullet and $25 tax for every firearm sold in Cook County and an $800 annual tax on every slot and video poker machine in the county.


She also proposed a 1.25 percent tax on items purchased outside the county for more than $2,500 to encourage residents to "buy local." The plan is expected to bring in about $43 million in revenue.


“Taxpayers elected me to make tough choices about County finances and that is precisely what my administration has done,” Preckwinkle said. “Since taking office, we have cut the operating budget by more than $100 million and have lowered the size of the County workforce by more than 2,400 positions.”


Cigarettes, she said, will help curb smoking, and the bullet tax hopefully will help put the brakes on gun violence.


"Gun violence is a real problem for us," Preckwinkle said last week said during a brief meeting with reporters. "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 idea 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 idea raises questions about how much money the so-called violence tax would raise for the county and whether it would really cut down on crime.


"If we can tax cigarettes, it seems we can tax bullets and guns," said Chicago resident Cathryn Taylor. "But at the same time, I get the point that if people are buying the stuff illegally, then the tax doesn't matter because they aren't going through legal channels anyway."


As for taxing video poker machines, some said it could prove to be a gamble, considering they aren't allowed in Chicago, and about 100 towns and cities voted against them.



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