Cook County Budget, With New Cigarette And Gun Tax Hikes, Approved

The Cook County Board of Commissioners on Friday handily approved the county's 2013 budget, complete with some $40 million worth of new taxes on the sales of guns and cigarettes.

The plan was approved by a vote of 16-1, the Chicago Tribune reports. Commissioner William Beavers was the lone "no" holdout, according to the Sun-Times.

According to ABC Chicago, a number of commissioners were confident early Friday that the budget, which combines some spending cuts with the new tax hikes, would sail to passage.

"Of the three budgets we have worked on, this has been the easiest. It has come together very well in a very bipartisan spirit," Commissioner John Fritchey told the station.

But Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle's spending plan has not come without tweaks since it was first proposed last month. A previously proposed "violence tax" of a nickel per bullet sold in the county has been scrapped, though a new $25-per-tax component of the anti-violence measure remains. The gun tax will go into effect on April 1.

Preckwinkle also trimmed a proposed video gambling machine tax from her budget proposal by offering a reduced fee for mom-and-pop shops than larger casinos in the county, namely Des Plaines' Rivers Casino.

In a statement released Friday, Preckwinkle pointed out that her spending plan is $100 million less than the county's budget just two years earlier. Preckwinkle's plan also includes a $2 million investment in violence prevention, intervention and reduction programs -- money that will be rewarded via grants to non-profit groups "with proven experience in violence prevention or community outreach" by an advisory committee.

"We achieved that by making structural changes that focus on the county’s long-term health," Preckwinkle said. "This is a fiscally responsible budget that reflects the values and priorities of my administration. It makes key investments in our public health and public safety systems that will advance a regional health care model and further criminal justice reform."

Remaining new tax hike proposals include a new $1 hike on the sale of cigarettes in the county, which will go into effect on March 1 and increase the taxes on a pack of cigarettes to $6.67, making Cook County cigarettes the nation's second-most expensive, NBC Chicago notes.

Additional new taxes being considered toward the county's $267 million-plus hole include hikes on a round of golf in Cook County and increased fees for forest preserve picnic permits. Those new proposals will be considered next month by the county's Forest Preserve District.

Last week, the spending plan was approved by the county board's Finance Committee, the Chicago Tribune reported. Preckwinkle's plan has also won the support of government watchdog groups, such as the Civic Foundation.

CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported that fees for rounds of golf and forest preserve picnic permits in the county were approved Friday. These proposals fall under the purview of the Forest Preserve District and will be considered next month.