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Preckwinkle Urges Approval Of Alcohol, Tobacco Tax Hikes

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Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle talks about her 2012 budget plan on the CBS 2 Morning News. (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and medical professionals are urging County Board members to approve increases in the alcohol and tobacco taxes when the board meets on Monday.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports, Preckwinkle says her proposed tax increases will be good for the health of tobacco users and people who drink too much alcohol.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Bernie Tafoya reports

She says studies indicate that people use less tobacco and alcohol when taxes go up.

But Preckwinkle also points out the tax increases will also be offset by a decrease in the sales tax.

“We decided that it was appropriate that there should be a bigger tax break on toothpaste and baby formula than booze,” Preckwinkle said.

But the Distilled Spirits Council says the alcohol tax increase would cost people jobs in the hospitality industry.

The Preckwinkle’s $2.9 billion budget also calls for higher taxes on cars and boats, and calls for residents of unincorporated suburban Cook County to pay up for police protection provided by the Cook County sheriff’s office.

The plan also calls for 1,000 layoffs in county government, all to make up for a $315 million shortfall.

On the CBS 2 Morning News late last month, Preckwinkle said many of the tax and fee hikes are about fairness and closing loopholes, rather than raising taxes just for the sake of increased revenue.

One of those loopholes has to do with tobacco products. Currently, a county tax is imposed on rolled cigarettes, but not loose tobacco or chewing tobacco. Preckwinkle says the tax should be the same for all such products.

Preckwinkle’s budget had also called for the county to begin charging $4.75 for parking at the garages and lots at its six criminal courthouses, although that plan has since been revised so that jurors and law enforcement officers may still park for free.

Meanwhile, an unpopular sales tax hike approved by former County Board President Todd Stroger is being rolled back. Half of the 1 percent hike was repealed when Preckwinkle supplanted Stroger in office, and a quarter of a percent of the tax will be repealed in 2012 and 2013.

Preckwinkle says eliminating the sales tax hike will save county taxpayers $400 million, while the new taxes and fees in the 2012 budget amount to only about $25 million.

Commissioners will vote on a final budget package — along with some changes — next week.

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