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Preckwinkle holsters her plan for nickel-a-bullet Cook County tax

Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times
by LISA DONOVAN

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced Wednesday that she’s scaling back her proposed violence tax.

During a press conference she told reporters she’s dropping her proposed nickel-a-bullet tax, but will continue to push for a $25-per gun tax on each firearm sold in Cook County.

“It was very important to us to tax guns — because we know that guns are the source of incredible violence that we have in our neighborhoods,” Preckwinkle said. “And it’s the proliferation of guns that has made the violence in our neighborhoods so difficult to cope with.”

She said there was “difficulty” with ammunition. In some cases the taxes would have been greater than the pricetag on a box of ammunition. But she’s not ruling that out down the line.

Preckwinkle has been unapologetic about the fact that her violence tax is more of statement than a moneymaker for the county, whose public health and court systems absorb the cost of crime.

By dropping the ammunition tax, the county would only see $600,000 in new revenues next year, money that will be used for the health and criminal justice system. In the big picture, that money is a drop in the bucket for a $3 billion government.

The violence tax had been part of her 2013 spending plan that aims to close a $268 million gap. Some $40 million in new or increased fees and taxes are on the table to erase some of that red ink, and Preckwinkle has been busy wheeling, dealing and revising the fee and tax plans in order to lock in the support she needs from county commissioners before they vote Friday on the revenue plan.

Vote question

Commissioner Edwin Reyes said he supports the measure — particularly now that it doesn’t leave any question that law enforcement members are exempt — but isn’t so sure that the nine votes will hold.

“If somebody doesn’t show up or it gets ugly — you know how some of these commissioners are, they’ll step out to the bathroom when they don’t want to take a hard vote,” he said.

Preckwinkle wouldn’t say if she had the minimum nine votes for the measure.

While she’s been trying to shore up costs, Preckwinkle announced Wednesday she’s backing a plan to spend $2 million on an anti-violence plan County Commissioner John Fritchey, a North Side Democrat, rolled out over the weekend. It includes the start of a new gun court, but the bulk of the money would be spent on a new grant program that would fund “non-profits with a track record of effective violence prevention and community outreach,” Preckwinkle said.

The president or one of her designees, three commissioners and three others — one in law enforcement and two others from community organizations — would serve on the seven-member advisory board.

The $2 million initiative would also include a public education campaign about laws prohibiting “straw purchasers” — people who legally purchase guns and resell them to criminals.

While the initiative calls for the cash-strapped county government to spend more money, Fritchey, who also attended Wednesday’s news conference, said this is about saving lives, which in turn could save millions spent on treating shooting victims in the public health system and prosecuting cases that wind through the county’s criminal court system.

This week, Chicago marked a milestone as it saw its 436th homicide — and counting — surpassing the recorded 435 homicides for all of 2011. Preckwinkle cited a University of Chicago study showing that 29 percent of guns used in crimes — and later recovered by police — were sold at some of the 40 suburban gun shops in suburban Cook County.

“We lose as many people to gun violence a month in Chicago as we’ve lost in Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast, but you don’t see the international attention, the international outcry and outpouring of support that you see there — and they deserve it, let’s not underestimate the scope of that tragedy. But we have a tragedy going on here.”

Other cuts

To fund the $2 million violence anti-violence package and make up for the estimated $400,000 in lost revenues by eliminating the ammunition tax proposal, Preckwinkle is looking to cut spending on consultants at the health and hospital system and bring some of the work in-house. An anticipated $500,000 in energy savings will means that money will also freed up for the program.

Her announcement about the ammunition tax marks the third day in a row she’s come out with some type of revision to her spending package to make it more palatable to commissioners to vote “yes.”

On Monday, she announced some changes to her “use tax” — a tax on merchandise purchased outside of Cook County but used here. The idea is to get residents and businesses in Cook County to shop locally.

The 1.25 percent tax on non-titled items — think lumber or a television — originally applied to purchases starting at $2,500. But this week, Preckwinkle said the threshold will be raised to $3,500.

Originally, the “use tax” was supposed to bring in $15 million in new revenues next year, but her revised plan means it will fall by $1.2 million to $13.8 million.

On Tuesday, she announced she was revamping her proposed gambling tax. Under the original plan, she wanted an $800-a-year tax on every slot machine at Rivers Casino in suburban Des Plaines — the only casino in the county — as well as each video gaming device that pops up in suburban Cook County. But now she wants Rivers to take the biggest bite, so those machines will be taxed at $1,000 apiece annually while the video gambling machines at local bars, restaurants and fraternal group halls will be $800 apiece.

The revamp means the county projections for gambling tax falls by $100,000 from $1.3 million to $1.2 million.

Preckwinkle’s budget director said they’re studying closely where the county can carve $1.3 million out of the budget to make up for changes to the gambling and use taxes.

Preckwinkle is also proposing a buck-a-pack cigarette tax that banks on $25.6 million in new revenues next year.



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