In the summer of 2009, Illinois governor Pat Quinn cobbled together bipartisan support for a $31 billion capital spending bill. The ambitious legislation provided funding for construction projects around the state, and created funding sources for the bill by opening the door to video poker and raising taxes on candy and alcohol.
So ambitious was the bill, in fact, that it was ruled unconstitutional late this January. A decision by the Appellate Court dealt a stunning blow to Quinn and the legislature by ruling that the law violated the state constitution by dealing with too many things at once. The "single-subject" rule in the Illinois Constitution (section 8(d)) forbids bills to deal with multiple issues that have no logical connection.
The state is scrambling to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, though, construction season is about to start, and some lawmakers are concerned about the possibility of missing the season for lack of funding.
So, Illinois Senate President John Cullerton is proposing a new revenue stream to pay for this year's projects: an increase in the cigarette tax.
“The construction program is too important to risk delays,” Cullerton spokesman John Patterson said, according to the Chicago Tribune. He's hoping that revenues from the tax increase on smokers will pay for this year's construction projects while the courts and legislature sort out the broader funding picture for the bill.
A similar measure passed in the Senate earlier this year, intended to provide funding for public schools, but it was voted down in the House by a 51-66 margin, the Sun-Times reports.
Illinois's current tax of $0.98 per pack places makes it the 32nd-highest in the nation. If it were to be increased to $1.98 a pack, as WGN reports Cullerton is proposing, it would move up to 15th in the nation, passing neighbors Indiana ($0.995 a pack) and Iowa ($1.36) but still taxing less than Wisconsin ($2.52 a pack, the 7th-highest rate in the nation).
But Chicago already has the second-highest combined state-local tax burden on cigarettes in the nation: $3.66 is tacked on to every pack between state and city taxes, thanks mostly to Cook County's $2-a-pack tax. Evanston comes in third in the nation at $3.48 for the same reason.
New York state ($4.35) and New York City ($5.85 total) have the highest rates nationally, according to data from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.