A proposal increasing alcohol taxes by 50 percent in Cook County was approved Monday by the county board, even as some feared the additional taxes could hold dire consequences for many employers in the hospitality industry.
The measure was approved by a 12-to-5 vote Monday, NBC Chicago reports.
The tax hike, introduced last week by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, was lauded by its proponents for creating more revenue for the cash-strapped county, while also potentially reducing consumption and curtailing alcohol-related health problems. Preckwinkle announced the plan alongside a number of the city's medical community leaders.
"We're standing together because we all feel very strongly that this is the right thing to do both from a fiscal standpoint and a policy standpoint," Preckwinkle explained in a statement. "Medical science, and study after study have shown that this is an effective way to promote public health and public safety, while being an effective way to pay for the services our government provides."
(Scroll down to watch Preckwinkle discuss the aims of the alcohol tax.)
As the Chicago Sun-Times points out, the proposal marks the fourth such tax hike on alcohol since 2005. Chicago already has the highest taxes on hard liquor in the country. The plan is anticipated to generate some $11 million in new revenue for Cook County.
The measure increases the tax on a 24-pack of beer 6 cents and on a 750 ml vodka bottle by about 50 cents. And while those rates may sound modest, some owners of bars, restaurants and other businesses in the hospitality industry contended that the increases would impact their bottom line in a way that could lead to fewer jobs.
Bobby McGuire, a bar owner, told the Sun-Times the measure "targets the hospitality industry and makes it difficult for independent operators to keep the doors open."
Preckwinkle has contended, in response, that the cost of alcohol will actually go down once she repeals her predecessor Todd Stroger's sale tax rate. She plans to reduce the sales tax by one cent off every dollar by 2013, according to WBEZ.
Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey also expressed his doubts with the plan and said that if the city of Chicago decriminalized small amounts of marijuana, changing it into a ticketable offense, the county could inspire further revenue growth because of a reduction in the cost of prosecuting arrests for marijuana possession, NBC Chicago reports. Fritchey is one of a handful of city officials pushing for the marijuana ticketing ordinance introduced earlier this month.
Fritchey, who tweeted Monday that he did not vote in favor of the hike, was also expected on Monday to introduce an amendment to the county budget that would repeal the alcohol tax after the city approves a marijuana decriminalization law.
Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) on Sunday said that he hopes the county can figure out another means to balance its budget, according to the Sun-Times.
Preckwinkle is also pushing an expansion of the county tobacco tax to smokeless tobacco, rolling papers and cigars.
WATCH Preckwinkle discuss the measure: