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E-cigarettes, hotel rooms face tax hike in Cook

Wednesday, November 18, 2015
Cook County Chronicle
by Kevin Beese

Benjamin Reyes, owner of an e-cigarette store in Des Plaines, said he would close up shop and head north if the county follows through on a proposed tax on the products he sells.

“I’m leaving. This goes through, I’m gone,” said the owner of Colossal Vape. “… I’m prepared to leave Cook County. I’ll move from Cook County too. I don’t want to be in a county that does this to its residents, its businesses.”

He said a $25 bottle of e-cigarette juice would carry a $24 tax on it, if the county tax goes through as planned.

“It’s insane. It’s insane. That’s a 96 percent tax,” Reyes said.

Reyes said he would set up shop in Lake County to avoid the Cook County tax. Other vapor storeowners say they will follow suit and move outside of the county should the tax go through at this week’s County Board meeting.

Commissioner Tim Schneider noted that the county collected $100,000 less in cigarette tax revenue last year than it did in 2004 despite the county instituting $1 tax hikes in 2004, 2006 and 2013.

“That is not because of people’s cessation of smoking,” Schneider said. “It is because people are leaving the county to get their goods and services outside of Cook County. “

He also believes the county may be off base in taxing e-cigarettes in an effort to get users to quit. Schneider noted that 15 people in his life have come to him in the last two weeks and told him that vaping helped them quit smoking.

At Friday’s Finance Committee meeting, commissioners approved the e-cigarette tax by a 12-2 vote.

Commissioners voting for the tax were: Luis Arroyo Jr., Richard Boykin, Jerry Butler, John Daley, Bridget Gainer, Jesus Garcia, Greg Goslin, Stanley Moore, Pete Silvestri, Deborah Sims, Larry Suffredin and Jeff Tobolski.

Voting against the tax were Commissioners Sean Morrison and Tim Schneider.

Commissioners Joan Murphy and Richard Steele were absent for the vote.

Commissioner John Fritchey voted present.

The board was also divided on instituting a 1 percent tax on hotel and motel rooms in the county. In a 10-6 vote, commissioners recommended advancing the proposed legislation to the County Board.

Mark Gordon, president and CEO of the Illinois Hotel Lodging Association, said County Board president Toni Preckwinkle failed to live up to her promise regarding a hotel/motel tax.

“We are very disappointed with Cook County for considering a hotel tax, especially after President Preckwinkle assured us in June that there would be no hotel tax if she got the entire 1 percent sales tax increase,” Gordon said.

He noted that in 2016 hotel guests in Chicago will be paying an 11.5 percent tax on purchases, a 28 percent tax when they park and a 17.4 percent tax on hotel rooms.

“How much longer can we expect tourists and conventions to keep coming to Chicago?” Gordon asked.

He said if the county institutes its 1 percent tax, Chicago would have the fourth highest hotel tax in the country, only one-quarter percent from the top. He noted Las Vegas and Orlando, which are competitors with Chicago for convention business, have hotel taxes of 12 and 12.5 percent, respectively.

Commissioners supporting the county hotel tax were: Luis Arroyo, Richard Boykin, Jerry Butler, Jesus Garcia, Greg Goslin, John Daley, Stanley Moore, Joan Murphy, Deborah Sims, and Jeff Tobolski

Voting against the tax were commissioners John Fritchey, Bridget Gainer, Sean Morrison, Tim Schneider, Pete Silvestri and Larry Suffredin.

Commissioner Robert Steele was absent.

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