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Cigarette Tax Hike For Public Works Programs?

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A woman lights up. (file/AFP Getty Images)

A woman lights up. (file/AFP Getty Images)

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS/WBBM) – Illinois State Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) is seeking a $1 per pack increase in the state cigarette tax to generate funds for a major public works program.

Cullerton plans Tuesday to call for a $1 per pack increase in the state cigarette tax to make up for lost revenues from video poker and higher liquor taxes that were stricken by a state appeals court.

He will lay out his plan during a speech before the Illinois Asphalt Pavement Association, and aides predicted a package could emerge from the Senate by week’s end.

“The construction program is too important to risk delays,” Cullerton spokesman John Patterson said late Monday.

The state’s 98-cent-a-pack cigarette tax has been in place since 2002, and Illinois rests in the middle of the pack nationally among states with cigarette taxes. New York has the highest state cigarette tax in the country at $4.35 a pack.

A cigarette tax increase in Illinois is no sure legislative bet, however. Attempts to raise the cigarette tax by $1.01 a pack in January stalled in the House by a 51-66 vote. Sixty votes were needed for passage.

In January, the Illinois Appellate Court tossed out a law authorizing the state’s $31 billion capital construction program.

The program was to fund several public works projects by legalizing video poker, allowing for the privatization of the Illinois State Lottery, and raising taxes on liquor, soft drinks, candy and various hygiene products.

But following a lawsuit by the Wirtz family, which is in the liquor distribution business and also owns the Chicago Blackhawks, the Appellate Court declared the program violated a restriction on how many subjects one piece of legislation covered and thus was unconstitutional.

Meanwhile in a separate initiative, cigar and pipe smokers, and those who use smokeless tobacco, could find themselves paying more for that habit.

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Under the proposed legislation, cities would have the same taxing abilities over all tobacco products that they currently enjoy over just cigarettes.

The legislation was proposed by state Rep. Karen Yarbrough (D-Maywood.)

“This would give municipalities the power to tax other tobacco products using any other measurement they want. It could be taxed by weight, unit, gross receipts, et cetera,” Yarbrough said. “A municipality may charge a tax based on the number of units of cigarettes sold. Additionally, they may tax on other tobacco products, but current law does not indicate how that municipality may measure the tax.”

A City of Chicago representative told the House committee the proposed law could bring in up to $2.5 million more to the city.

The Chicago Sun-Times contributed to this report, via the Sun-Times Media Wire.

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