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State Senate president proposes adding $1 to state cigarette tax

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

SPRINGFIELD - Senate President John Cullerton wants to dig deeper into the pockets of cigarette smokers to help float a $31 billion state construction program whose main funding sources have been imperiled by a legal challenge.

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.

The Chicago Democrat 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.

A lawsuit filed by Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz and his family’s liquor distributorship, Wirtz Beverage Illinois LLC, was upheld in February after the Illinois Appellate Court ruled the revenue package supporting the construction program was unconstitutional.

The case is pending before the Illinois Supreme Court, but state lawmakers must cobble a funding stream for the statewide bricks-and-mortar program soon, or the state risks losing a construction season.

The video-poker component that would have placed the electronic gambling machines in bars and restaurants throughout the state has been a virtual non-starter since it was imposed in 2009.

Chicago has refused to permit the machines in the city while more than 60 other local governments have voted to opt out of the controversial program.

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