Citing concerns about alcohol abuse, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Wednesday announced a plan that would increase alcohol taxes by 50 percent in Cook County.
When Preckwinkle took office, she vowed to roll back the wildly unpopular sales tax put in place by her predecessor Todd Stroger. She already said she would roll back .25 of the tax in her 2012 budget, but still is dealing with a $315 million deficit and is desperately looking for ways to increase revenue.
"When the cost of alcohol is higher, younger people are less likely to drink and if they do drink, they drink less," CEO of Cook County Hospitals, Dr. Ramanathan Raju, said at a press conference with Preckwinkle Wednesday, according to WBEZ.
Preckwinkle stood with health care leaders at Stroger Hospital to say higher taxes could curb consumption and lessen alcohol-related health problems. She wants to raise $10.9 million next year by increasing the tax on wholesale alcohol prices.
The tax on a 24-pack of beer would increase 6 cents, and on a 750 ml bottle of vodka by no more than 50 cents, her office said. Preckwinkle said alcohol would cost less by 2013, when she plans to eliminate the final quarter of the 1-percentage-point sales tax hike pushed through by her predecessor, Todd Stroger.
Though the increase would amount to "less than two cents on a six-pack of beer," the Chicago Sun-Times points out that Chicago already has the highest taxes on hard liquor in the country.
"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," Ben Jenkins, with the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, told WBEZ.
At a time when the state, county and city is desperate to create jobs, Jenkins said taxing the hospitality industries could lead to hundreds of lost jobs.
"While we appreciate the difficult position the commissioners are in with respect to the budget, the Chicago-area hospitality industry is also in a very difficult position – down 13,000 jobs since the recession," DISCUS Vice President Dale Szyndrowski said in a statement, according to NBC Chicago.
Preckwinkle has also suggested altering the current cigarette tax to include loose tobacco, rolling papers and snuff.