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Cook County might raise alcohol tax, extend tobacco tax

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is calling for more taxes on alcohol and tobacco products. Under her proposal, smokeless tobacco and cigars will be taxed the same as cigarettes. As for alcohol, taxes would go up by 50 percent in Cook County. That would add a few cents on beer and wine and not much more on hard liquor.

At a news conference Wednesday morning, Preckwinkle was flanked by medical specialists and experts as she touted the public health benefits of such taxes. The CEO of Cook County Hospitals, Dr. Ramanathan Raju, cited studies showing alcohol taxes like these reduce substance abuse.

"When the cost of alcohol is higher, younger people are less likely to drink and if they do drink, they drink less," Raju said.

But even though taxes on alcohol are going up, Preckwinkle said the overall price of alcohol could be going down because of the proposed cut in county sales tax.

"The cost of alcohol will go down, because we've reduced the sales tax," Preckwinkle said. 

Preckwinkle's 2012 budget calls for another .25 percent shaved off the sales tax, with the goal being a one cent savings on the dollar by 2013.

She did not comment on whether or not a reduced cost of alcohol overall will cancel out the alleged benefits of the proposed sales tax.

The county estimates the new tax would generate around $11 million dollars in revenue.

Meanwhile, Cook County's hospitality industry is bracing for some pain if the proposed increase passes. Ben Jenkins is with the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. He said the higher tax would be a big burden for business owners.

"Restaurant or bar owners that buy bottles or buy alcohol by the case - it adds up several dollars a bottle and a lot more per case," Jenkins said. As those extra dollars accumulate, Jenkins said bars and restaurants may have to sacrifice jobs to save money. The Council also released a report showing the proposed tax could end up costing Cook County a few hundred hospitality jobs.

County commissioners are scheduled to vote on the tax plans Monday.

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