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Cigarettes, golf all could cost more under Cook County tax plan

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle met with Sun-Times Editorial Board Tuesday Oct. 16 2012. She was joined by Chief

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle met with the Sun-Times Editorial Board Tuesday Oct. 16, 2012. She was joined by Chief of Staff Kurt Summers and Committeeman John Daley. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 19, 2012 3:39PM



If you sin or play in Cook County, get ready to open your wallet.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is expected to propose a $1-a-pack tax hike on cigarettes when she unveils her 2013 spending plan on Thursday, according to multiple county commissioners briefed on the matter.

And playing golf or hosting a big picnic in the county’s forest preserve system will also cost a few more bucks, under a separate spending plan that also will be formally introduced Thursday.

Worried about the political fallout of raising property taxes in a recovering economy with high foreclosure rates, elected leaders everywhere are looking at other revenue streams to make ends meet.

And Cook County is no different. In fact, officials are emphasizing the fact that they’re holding the line on property taxes.

Instead, a series of new and increased taxes and fees Preckwinkle will propose will bring in a modest $43 million in new revenues in 2013, with the biggest moneymaker the cigarette tax hike which is expected to bring in about $25 million, said county commissioners, who agreed to talk only on the condition of anonymity.

The Preckwinkle administration has put a lid on publicly discussing the roughly $3 billion budget proposal until its formal release on Thursday.

This year, Gov. Quinn approved a $1-a-pack hike to plug a $2.7 bilion hole in the state’s health-care for the poor, elderly and disabled. And while Mayor Rahm Emanuel considered a similar hike, he ultimately backed off. Whether Preckwinkle has the nine votes — out of 17 — on the county board to pass the measure remains to be seen.

Right now the combined federal, state and local taxes for a pack of smokes is $4.67 in Chicago and $3.99 in Cook County’s suburbs. The county’s tax alone is $2.

Preckwinkle’s also pushing ahead with plans to create a so-called county violence tax: a nickel on the sale of every bullet inside the county and $25 on guns, commissioners say.

While most commissioners who talked to the Sun-Times declined to weigh in on the budget because they wanted more details, one was displeased with the tax on guns and ammunition sold in the city and suburbs.

“I think it’s unnecessary,” the commissioner said. “It’s only going to bring in something like $1 million next year, and we’ll easily spend that in legal fees and trying to collect the money,” the commissioner said, explaining that there is some concern the county will be sued over the tax and collecting it could be a costly venture.

Preckwinkle will also formally push for an $800-per-year tax on every slot and video gambling machine in operation around the county.

Other measures to shore up costs include wiping more than 400 vacant positions off the books and about 10 layoffs, commissioners said.

In putting together the roughly $3 billion budget plan, Preckwinkle announced last summer she was working to close a $268 budget hole — $152 million alone in the county’s public health and hospital system. Last month, budget and health system officials said a series of steps would be taken to close the gap including improving patient billing — which has been a chronic problem — and enrolling dozens of uninsured patients in Medicaid as part of a program that’s been described as a bridge to the Affordable Care Act, which takes effect in 2014. But several commissioners have raised concerns in recent weeks about banking on that money. County health officials, while confident they’ll get the millions, have yet to formally secure the funds.

Over at the county forest preserve, a separate taxing district with a different budget, the cost of picnicking and golfing will go up, under a proposal released Wednesday.

The most popular picnic permit — for an unsheltered grove spot to host 25 to 99 people — will go up $2, from $35 to $37. The cost to play a round of golf at all but one of the 10 courses in the forest preserve system will go up $1; at the premier 18-hole George W. Dunne National course, the fee will go up $2, from $47 to $49.

While the forest preserve is operating in the black, Supt. Arnold Randall says the modest increases, which will generate roughly $110,000 new dollars next year, are necessary to keep up with rising fuel, utility and other costs.



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