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Is highest ticket tax in nation now on deck for Chicago?

Wrigley Field as Cubs play Miami Marlins Tuesday July 17 2012 Chicago.  | Chandler West~Sun-Times

Wrigley Field as the Cubs play the Miami Marlins on Tuesday, July 17, 2012, in Chicago. | Chandler West~Sun-Times

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Updated: October 20, 2012 6:17AM

Mayor Rahm Emanuel is exploring the possibility of raising the city’s 9 percent amusement tax and the “sin” tax on cigarettes of 68 cents a pack to chip away at a $369 million shortfall in the city’s 2013 budget.

Three weeks away from his budget address, City Hall sources said Emanuel is determined to hold the line on sales and real estate taxes after signing off on a $41 million school property tax hike and a new teachers’ contract that virtually locks in up-to-the-limit school property tax increases in each of the next three years.

But he’s not ruling out a host of other new revenues while trying to steer clear of the ones he hit last year: hotel rooms, parking, downtown loading zones and fines for parking violations, and criminal and nuisance offenses punishable by vehicle impoundment.

Chicago’s two-tiered amusement tax was last increased in 2009, to 5 percent from 4 percent for mid-sized venues and to 9 percent from 8 percent for large sporting events. The lower tax rate applies to live theatrical, musical and cultural performances in venues with more than 750 seats. Smaller theaters are exempt.

Until an ill-timed controversy over the conservative politics of Joe Ricketts, the patriarch of the billionaire family that owns the Cubs, team owner Tom Ricketts was still hoping to use 35 years’ worth of amusement tax growth to help finance a $300 million renovation of Wrigley Field.

Emanuel was prepared to sign off on that plan, a $150 million variation of a financing scheme he once called a “non-starter.”

The other $150 million would have come from relaxing Wrigley’s landmark status to allow the Cubs to wring more advertising and sponsorship revenue out of the stadium.

The mayor’s plan to raise the amusement tax — most likely to 10 percent — would increase the city’s $88.2 million-a-year take and reduce the number of years the Cubs would need to siphon growth to renovate Wrigley.

But it would also increase the “competitive disadvantage” impacting the Cubs, Sox, Bears, Bulls and Black Hawks, said Marc Ganis, a Chicago-based sports marketing and stadium financing consultant.

“This could very well wind up being the highest ticket tax in the entire United States. The mayor could get criticized the same way Todd Stroger did when he raised the sales tax,” Ganis said, referring to the former County Board president.

Chicago’s cigarette tax was increased by 32 cents a pack in 2005 and by 20 cents a pack in 2006. That raised the city’s tax to a whopping 68 cents a pack.

At $4.67 a pack, Chicago now has the nation’s second-highest combined state and local tax rate on cigarettes. New York City tops the list at $5.85 a pack.

Yet another increase would prompt even more smokers to drive across state lines to purchase cartons of cigarettes.

But an Emanuel confidante said, “The mayor doesn’t care if it drives more people to Indiana. He’s turning over every stone not to hit homeowners” with an increase in property taxes or a garbage collection fee like the charge imposed in many suburbs.

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