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County Wants to Tax Vice, Bad Habit and Weaponry
Video gambling, cigarettes, guns and ammo would be taxed under Cook County's new budget plan. Golf and picnic permits at the Forest Preserve would cost more, too.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

by Dennis Robaugh

Targeting smokers, gun owners and gamblers, a slew of new and unusual taxes and fees designed to raise $43 million are proposed for Cook County's $2.95 billion 2013 budget.

Board President Tony Preckwinkle released her spending plan Thursday, saying $50 million in spending cuts are planned, too, and 462 open county jobs would be eliminated.

But public attention will focus on the taxes:

  • $1-a-pack more on cigarettes; the county tax is already $2 a pack
  • $800 on every video gambling machine
  • $25 on every gun sold
  • 5 cents on every bullet sold
  • $5 fee for every "confirmation of death" letter issued by the county morgue

The proposed budget avoids a property tax hike. Nine of 17 commissioners need to vote for Preckwinkle's budget for it to pass.

The county projects $25 million would be raised via the cigarette tax. Today, the total federal, state and local tax levied on a pack of cigarettes is $4.67 in Chicago and $3.99 in the Cook County suburbs. 

The tax on guns and ammo — dubbed a "violence tax" by some — would raise $1 million through the county's 40 registered firearms dealers.

"The violence in Cook County is devastating and the wide availability of ammunition only exacerbates the problem," Preckwinkle said Thursday in announcing her budget to county commissioners. "Twenty-nine percent of the illegal guns used in crimes and recovered by the Chicago Police Department were purchased legally in Cook County. This violence has a real impact on the Cook County Health and Hospital System."

The first-term Democrat pointed out that trauma care for gunshot victims costs $52,000, on average, and most people who visit Cook County's emergency rooms with bullet wounds don't have insurance.

In 2011, 670 shooting victims were treated in county hospitals, Preckwinkle said.

"Why should we be paying for gang bangers shooting each other?" asked the owner of Freddie Bear Sport, a guns and ammo dealer in Tinley Park. "You're taxing law-abiding citizens for what criminals are doing."

Lutger told the Associated Press his customers will simply go elsewhere if they have to pay taxes on their guns and bullets.

"Who's going to come to Tinley Park to buy ammunition?" Lutger said.

Forty-five Cook County businesses have video gaming licenses, according to the Illinois Gaming Board, and Preckwinkle wants $800 per year for each machine, projecting $1.3 million in annual revenue.

"These machines generate almost $800 a day – we’re asking for $800 per year. They keep their other 364 days of revenue. We use that one day’s revenue to help mitigate the impact of the associated costs of crime, health, addiction," Preckwinkle said.

A new state law that went into effect this month allows communities to approve video gaming in their towns, but state lawmakers never envisioned Cook County would try to impose this tax, according to a report from IllinoisWatchdog.org.

State Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, a longtime advocate of expanded gambling in Illinois, said Cook County's video gaming tax would be a "job killer" for local bars and restaurants that want to add the devices to their business plans.

If taxes are certain, so is death. And Preckwinkle found a way to get a few bucks via the dead souls who pass through the county morgue. 

Among the budget's various smaller proposed fees, there's a $5 charge for every "confirmation of death" letter, according to Clout Street on ChicagoTribune.com. Such fees would raise about half a million dollars.

And over at the Cook County Forest Preserve, a separate county taxing body, there are proposals to hike fees for the first time in seven years on picnic permits and rounds of golf.

The cost of the most popular county picnic permit for groups of 100 people or less rises from $35 to $37. The price of a permit for an event with more than 1,000 people will increase from $760 to $960. 

A round of golf at nine county golf courses will cost $1 more. But at George W. Dunne National in Oak Forest, a premier 18-hole course, the fee would be $49, $2 more than it is today.

This post is published on the Patch network throughout Cook County.



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