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Cook County’s proposed $1 a pack cigarette tax wins early approval

Friday, November 02, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times

It looks like come 2013, smokers in Chicago and the suburbs are going to have to dig deeper in their pockets and purses — and not to find the lighter.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s proposed $1-a-pack cigarette tax increase won first-round approval by the county board’s Finance Committee — a committee that all 17 commissioners sit on, leaving little doubt it will be approved as part of the larger 2013 budget package.

The hike, scheduled to kick in March 1, will push the combined tax on a pack of cigarettes to $6.67 in Chicago — the second-highest in the nation behind New York City at $6.86.

While some are concerned that smokers will go over the border for cheaper smokes, Preckwinkle isn’t concerned.

She believes if the tax discourages smoking it could be a lifesaver. During a recent press conference at John H. Stroger Hospital of Cook County, she rattled off statistics from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids that suggest the tax would save some 10,300 Cook County residents from premature, smoking related deaths and trigger a 7.2 percent drop in young smokers.

In the meantime, the projected $25.6 million in new revenues that will be collected next year will go to the county’s public health system.

The cigarette tax hike was among a series of new or increased taxes and fees — roughly $40 million in all — Preckwinkle proposed to help close a $268 million budget gap in the county’s $3 billion operation next year.

During a Finance Committee meeting called Friday afternoon, commissioners also passed Preckwinkle’s proposed gambling tax: a $1,000 annual tax on every slot machine at Rivers Casino in Des Plaines — the sole casino in the county – as well as a $200 tax on video gambling machines in other establishments. The county is expected to bring in about $1.2 million in new revenues next year.

Commissioners also signed off on a proposed $25 tax on every gun purchase in the county, bringing in $600,000 in new revenues next year.

And Cook County businesses and residents would pay a 1.2 percent tax on merchandise exceeding $3,500 that they buy outside the county but use locally. While some have raised eyebrows about the self-reporting system of paying the tax, Preckwinkle’s office believes it will bring in a projected $13.8 million.

The full $2.9 billion budget proposal for 2013 will be voted on next week.

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