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82-Cent-Per-Pack Increase in Cigarette Tax Proposed
Stroger Gropes for Income as Other Plans Fail

Tuesday, December 16, 2003
Chicago Tribune
by Mickey Ciokajlo

Cook County Board President John Stroger joined officials from the American Lung Association and other health organizations Monday to support a proposed 82-cent-per-pack increase in the county's excise tax on cigarettes.

Stroger, however, would not say how a cigarette tax increase, which is expected to be voted on Tuesday afternoon, would affect his controversial proposal to create a 4 percent lease tax on rentals.

Last week, Stroger declined to call for a vote on his proposed 2004 budget because a majority of board members did not support the lease tax or a .25 percentage point increase in the sales tax that Stroger also wants. Afterward, Stroger refused to declare the lease-tax idea dead.

On Monday, he sidestepped a question about whether he was still pushing the lease tax.

"I'm working with the chairman of the Finance Committee and whatever the committee comes out with I'll be supportive of," Stroger said in reference to Commissioner John Daley.

Reached Monday afternoon, Daley said the votes weren't there a week ago for the lease tax. "I don't know if the lease tax is viable anymore," Daley said.

Daley intends to call for a vote Tuesday on the proposed cigarette-tax increase, but he conceded that passage was uncertain. Commissioner Earlean Collins is considered the swing vote.

Collins and other commissioners opposed to Stroger's tax initiatives have called for structural reforms and cost cutting instead of tax hikes.

Commissioner Roberto Maldonado said he has eight solid votes--one shy of a majority--to increase the cigarette tax from 18 cents to $1 per pack. He said it is a way to pass Stroger's budget without the lease tax.

Stroger has supported increasing the cigarette tax because it would raise revenue while encouraging smokers, especially underage ones, to quit because of the high cost.

Maldonado said a conservative estimate shows that a cigarette-tax increase of 82 cents per pack would generate an additional $41 million next year. Stroger's administration suspects that the number is high and was working Monday to have its own estimate prepared for Tuesday's public hearing.

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