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County Board approves $1-a-pack cigarette tax hike, violence tax

Friday, November 09, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times
by LISA DONOVAN

If you smoke, purchase guns or own slot machines in Cook County, it’s going to cost a little more come 2013.

During a Friday meeting, a majorty of Cook County commissioners approved Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s $2.9 billion spending plan that includes a $1-a-pack cigarette tax hike, a new $25 tax on each firearm purchased at the suburban gun shops — city law prohibits gun sales in Chicago — and a new tax on slot and other gambling machines: $1,000 for each slot machine at Rivers Casino in suburban Des Plaines — the only casino in the county – $200 for the video gambling machines set up in bars and restaurants around the suburbs.

“I am grateful to all of you,” Preckwinkle said, addressing commissioners after the vote. “I appreciate the cooperative and collaborative nature of this process.”

Her spending plan, with a few tweaks, won in a 16-1 vote with Commissioner William Beavers, a South Side Democrat and frequent Preckwinkle critic, casting the sole “no” vote.

The budget also calls for county residents and business owners who make big-ticket purchases of more than $3,500 outside the county to pay a 1.2 percent tax. The so-called use tax would apply to non-titled property — think televisions and appliances.

Business owners and residents would be required to self-report the purchases to the county, leaving some commissioners scratching their head about whether this will bring in the $13.8 million Preckwinkle’s administration is projecting. The tax will kick in April 1.

The cigarette tax will kick in March 1, while the gambling taxes are effective June 1.

With a few tweaks, the county board signed off on Preckwinkle’s $41.7 million revenue package that included new or increased fees and taxes.

A series of new or increased taxes and fees will chip away at a projected $267.5 million shortfall in the 2013 fiscal year, which begins Dec. 1. Another $99 million in new Medicaid funding also helped close the gap, allowing for up to 115,000 uninsured patients to enroll in the health care plan for the poor.

Another $52.4 million will be shored up by slashing energyusage, recalibrating and lowering healthcare costs, wiping 452 vacant jobs off the books and laying off 10 employees in Preckwinkle’s office.

And the county will wring out another $46.1 million through a number of initiatives including leaning on traffic ticket scofflaws and collecting a little more than $1 million from surplus tax-increment financing funds. Some of those dollars, too, will come from better-than-expected sales, amusement and alcohol tax revenues — yet another sign of economic recovery and federal funding to cover the cost of digitizing medical records in the public health system.

With two hospitals and more than a dozen clinics, the health system also is projecting it will bring in an added $28.3 million by improving patient billing, a chronic problem in the health system.

A chunk of the county’s shortfall — roughly $86 million — is attributed to the rollback of what’s left of an unpopular penny-on-the-dollar sales tax hike. Passed in 2008 the sales tax increase pushed Chicago’s overall sales tax to 10.25 percent, the highest of any large city. The combined city, county and state sales tax in the city will drop to 9.25 percent after Jan. 1.

The “penny” as commissioners often called it as the tax increase was debated in meetings, changed the political fortunes of a least two Chicago politicians. Then-Board President Todd Stroger, who championed the sales tax, lost the 2010 primary to Preckwinkle after she campaigned to dump the “Stroger sales tax” — complete with a television ad showing her shaking hands with an actor, dressed as the original penny pincher, Benjamin Franklin.



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