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More Taxes For Cigarettes, Bullets And Gambling In County Budget

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Updated 10/18/12 – 4:53 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s budget plan relies on new or higher taxes on cigarettes, ammunition, guns, and gambling machines, but also fulfills her 2010 campaign pledge to eliminate an unpopular sales tax hike enacted by her predecessor.

CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports Preckwinkle’s proposed $3 billion county budget will include a $1 a pack tax hike in cigarettes as a way to help close a $268 million budget deficit. The tax hike is estimated to raise $25 million in new revenue for the county.

Preckwinkle is also pushing for an $800 annual tax on every slot and video gambling machine in the county. And she’s calling for a nickel tax on the sale of every bullet and a $25 tax on the sale of every gun.

LISTEN: WBBM Political Editor Craig Dellimore Reports

There is no plan to increase property taxes under Preckwinkle’s budget proposal.

Her plan also includes incentives for local businesses to buy local supplies.

READ: County Budget Guide

But Preckwinkle said the money local businesses and residents will save by completing the rollback of the controversial sales tax hike enacted under her predecessor, Todd Stroger, will offset the cost of the new and higher taxes.

Preckwinkle ran for office in 2010 on a promise to gradually eliminate the penny-on-the-dollar sales tax hike pushed through by Stroger in 2008. Her budget plan would eliminate the last quarter penny of that sales tax hike that is still on the books. The move would cost the county approximately $86 million in sales tax revenue.

“We have reduced taxes for everyone by twice as much as we’ve selectively raised them,” she said. “In doing so, we have incrementally raised the price on items like cigarettes, guns, and gambling machines, in order to continue to lower the price on milk, toothpaste, and other necessities.”

She also said revenue from her tax proposals would go to fund related county services.

“Every revenue measure that I call for is targeted, it’s responsible, and it’s focused on supporting the services we provide,” Preckwinkle said.

The cigarette tax hike would be used to help fund the county’s health and hospital systems; the ammunition tax would be used to treat victims of violence; and the gambling tax would pay for compulsive gambling prevention.

“These machines generate $800 a day, and we’re asking for $800 a year,” she said of the gambling tax. “They [gambling venues] keep their other … 364 days of revenue.”

But gun shop owner Don Mastrianni told CBS 2’s Dana Kozlov he believes Preckwinkle’s plan for new taxes on guns and ammunition would backfire.

“That’s gonna increase the average box [of ammunition] by about $2.50. People are going to go outside the county and buy it. I mean, it’s just like the cigarette tax. They’ll just go somewhere else,” he said.

Yet the new tax is about more than money to some.

“I believe that they are one of a whole myriad of measures, networked together, that provide reduction of violence,” said Fr. Brendan Curran, pastor at St. Pius V Parish in Pilsen.

The Illinois State Rifle Association has said the tax unfairly hurts law-abiding citizens, who aren’t the ones responsible for gun violence in Cook County. The ISRA said the gang bangers and drug dealers responsible for gun violence problems do not buy their guns legally, and would not be affected by the tax.

The ISRA said it would consider fighting the tax in court, if it is approved.

Preckwinkle said she’s not worried that the gun and ammunition taxes would actually hurt tax revenues by driving gun stores – and the sales tax revenue they already generate – out of the county.

“I would be astonished if this had the effect of driving gun stores into surrounding counties,” she said.

Preckwinkle said this budget plan is not as harsh as last year.

“On our first two budgets, we had to lay off 1,000 people, so that was probably the most difficult thing I’ve had to do on this job,” she said. “This year, we’re closing 452 [vacant] positions, and laying off 10 people.”

Even so, Preckwinkle said the county does have continuing structural problems that must be addressed.

Coming on the heels of a $1-per-pack cigarette tax approved by the state earlier this year, Preckwinkle’s proposed cigarette tax hike would bring the taxes alone on a pack of cigarettes in Chicago to $6.67.

Only New York City has a higher combination of federal, state, county and local taxes on cigarettes, at $6.86 per pack.

In suburban Cook County, the tax on a pack of cigarettes would only be slightly lower than Chicago, at $5.99 per pack, under Preckwinkle’s plan.

Many smokers in Chicago and suburban Cook County already avoid the high tax rates on cigarettes by buying their smokes outside the county. For some brands of cigarettes in Chicago, prices are already $12.45 per pack.

One smoker in downtown Chicago said he buys his cigarettes in Will County.

Corine Brown said she crosses over the Indiana border to buy cigarettes, and she buys cigarettes for her co-workers as well.

“They give me money every week, and I do weekly run to a cigarette store, and bring purchased cigarettes for them, and bring them back to work,” she said. “They’re cheaper. They’re too expensive in Illinois.”

Some think Preckwinkle’s plan is a brilliant way to convince some smokers to kick the habit, while also raising needed money for the county.

Akta Mehta said, “If they’re going to add tax to anything, might as well be cigarettes; to give them motivation to stop purchasing it, and will help close the [budget] gap as well.”

Even some smokers agreed.

Ronald Proctor said, “I don’t think it’s really fair, but what I do like about it – it will deter people from maybe smoking as much.”

Mike Abbinante said, “I got to quit anyway, so I don’t care. … For a dollar tax, gives me motivation to quit. … It’s getting real expensive. So I’m better off. I’m better off just stopping, anyway.”

Playing golf or holding a picnic in Cook County forest preserves also would cost more under her budget plan for the Forest Preserve district.

Under a separate budget plan for the Cook County Forest Preserve District, she’ll also seek increased fees for picnic permits, and higher prices for playing golf at the 10 courses in the forest preserve system.

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