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Editorial: Raise cigarette tax $1 to fund road plan

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



In a pinch, swapping one sin tax for another — on cigarettes instead of video poker and booze — strikes us as a good idea.

A recent state appellate court decision has thrown a monkey wrench into Illinois’ $31 billion capital construction program.

The court tossed out the revenue package for the construction program, ruling that it violated a provision in the Illinois Constitution that appropriations bills deal with only one subject.

The Illinois Supreme Court may yet reverse that ruling, but in the meantime vital road and bridge projects are in jeopardy — unless the state can find another way to pay for them.

Senate President John Cullerton has proposed a sensible way to keep funding flowing until the legal challenge is resolved. He would increase the state’s cigarette tax by $1, to $1.98 per pack.

The estimated $300 million a year in new funds generated would offset the lost revenue from video poker and higher liquor taxes that were struck down by the appellate court.

As we’ve said before, we’re no fans of video poker. Our worry is that the expansion of video gambling would only funnel new revenues to the mob. So any attempt to make the state less reliant on it sounds like a winner to us.

Increasing the cigarette tax, if it discourages smoking, also has a public health benefit.

As it stands now, Illinois’ cigarette tax is lower than that of 31 other states, according to a 2010 report from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Raising the tax by $1 might lead some Illinois residents to buy their smokes in Iowa, Indiana or Missouri, where they can get a better deal. But the tax would still be lower than that of Wisconsin, Michigan and several other states.

Sin taxes can be hard to justify. If people don’t want to give up smoking, drinking or some other vices, that’s their business. But we would argue that the social cost of cigarettes makes it one “sin” too great to ignore.

The proposal to increase the cigarette tax might come up for a vote in the Senate as early as today. Lawmakers shouldn’t hesitate to pass it.



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