Debate continues over proposed violence tax for Cook County

Preckwinkle supporter says ammunition tax likely to fail

October 30, 2012

Caroline O'Donovan

New taxes on both firearms and ammunition are a major part of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s proposed budget. Her goal is to reduce the number of legally purchased guns falling into the wrong hands. But some board members are pushing back against that plan.

12th District Commissioner John Fritchey has a new proposal out. He wants Cook County to reinstate a gun court, and he wants to pay for it by eliminating hospital jobs. Fritchey says the funding will come from 28 currently vacant administrative jobs within the Cook County Health and Hospitals System. In addition to the gun court, Fritchey also wants to create $1 million in grants for a safety fund dedicated to anti-violence and youth organizations.

“The gun court program would allow us to more quickly prosecute gun offenders,” Fritchey said. “Giving credit where credit is due that initiative originally came from [President Preckwinkle]. What I’m trying to do is incorporate it into a broader plan and identify the funding for it.”

President Preckwinkle declined to comment on Commissioner Fritchey’s plan at a press conference on Monday, saying she plans to work with him throughout budget hearings this week.

13th District Commissioner Larry Suffredin is a supporter of Preckwinkle’s violence tax. He says Fritchey’s proposal is “clearly intended to derail” the new tax.

Suffredin also said that Cook County had a gun court in the past, but it was eliminated via reform. He says gun law today is too complicated for a gun court today with more minor charges being resolved at the state level while more serious offenses are tried federally.

“It didn’t work before, and it won’t work now,” he said.

Suffredin also opposes Fritchey’s plan to eliminate hospital jobs.

“If we’re gonna raise money to fight violence we shouldn’t be taking it from the hospital, which is where we should be giving the money to help deal with the cost of violence,” he said.

He added that the move was especially unwise in light of the $100 million federal grant the county hospital system was awarded over the weekend through the Affordable Care Act. Suffredin says to do the kind of work the grant calls for, those 28 employees are “essential.” Fritchey, meanwhile, is confident that failing to fill those vacancies will have no affect on the quality of patient care.

Suffredin did say he supported the grants that Fritchey proposes, although he says the funds should be annually renewable. He is confident that some form of firearm tax will pass, but says it seems unlikely that the ammunition tax will make it to the final budget.

Fritchey says this kind of negotiation - and eventual compromise - are all a part of the budget hearing process.