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County Approves Gun, Gambling, Cigarette Tax Hikes; Lower Sales Tax

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The cost of smoking, buying guns, and playing the slots in Cook County will be going up next year, but the county is also getting rid of the final portion of the hated 2008 sales tax hike.

CBS 2's Chris Martinez reports the Cook County Board has approved a $3 billion budget plan for 2013 that relies on a $1-per-pack cigarette tax hike, and new taxes on guns and gambling machines, but also eliminates the last quarter cent of the penny-per-dollar sales tax increase enacted almost five years ago.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle's budget plan, after a few modest changes, was approved by a 16-1 vote on Friday. Commissioner William Beavers (D-4th) was the lone no vote.

The cigarette tax hike, coming on the heels of a $1-per-pack cigarette tax approved by the state earlier this year, 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.

Preckwinkle has defended the cigarette tax hike, saying it would help save lives by convincing some smokers to kick the habit.

"They should quit," she said Friday.

The cigarette tax hike is scheduled to go into effect on March 1.

The budget plan also imposes a new $25-per-gun tax on firearm purchases, a $1,000-per-year tax on slot machines at the county's only casino, and a $200-per-year tax on video gambling machines at bars, restaurants and other locations.

Residents and business owners in Cook County also would have to pay a so-called "buy local" tax for big-ticket purchases. It would impose a 1.25 percent use tax on local businesses and residents for purchases of more than $3,500 outside of the county.

The county also expected to save $52 million more by scrapping 452 empty county positions, laying off 10 workers, reducing energy usage, and lowering health care costs.

All of that, however, would only chip away at the county's $267 million budget shortfall.

A chunk of that budget gap was the result of the $86 million in lost revenue from eliminating the last portion of the 2008 sales tax hike pushed through by Preckwinkle's predecessor, Todd Stroger.

The so-called "Stroger Sales Tax" increased Chicago's combined sales taxes to 10.25 percent in 2008. Starting Jan. 1, that tax rate will drop to 9.25 percent.

The remainder of the county's budget gap will be filled thanks to $99 million in new Medicaid funding, $46 million expected from cracking down on traffic ticket scofflaws and improving tax revenues due to the economic recovery, and an added $28 million from the county's hospitals and clinics due to improved patient billing.

"The amount of the county budget has been reduced dramatically, so I do believe that we are headed in the right direction," said Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski (D-16th).

The new taxes and fees approved on Friday were just the beginning for Cook County, however.

When the same commissioners take up the Forest Preserve District budget next month, they're expected to approve increased fees for picnic permits, and higher prices for playing golf at the 10 courses in the forest preserve system.


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