Poll: 62% of Chicago Voters Support Sales Tax Hike on Booze to Fund Mental Health, Drug Treatment

Concern over funding for mental health care and drug treatment services is acute enough that even tax-weary Chicago voters back a sales tax hike on hooch to provide more money to those programs, a new poll says.
 
Despite registering overwhelming opposition to a flight of property tax and water/sew fee increase questions to bolster public employee pension funds, respondents to an August 29 automated poll commissioned by The Illinois Observer finds that Chicago voters strongly back "a plan to raise the state sales tax on beer, wine, and liquor to provide more money for mental health care and drug treatment"
 
The survey of 582 likely 2016 voters, which was conducted by Illinois Public Opinion Strategies, Inc., reveals that 62.6% back "approve" of the sales tax plan hike and 26.2% "disapprove" and 11.2% are undecided. The poll's margin of error was +/- 4.75%.
 
Why?
 
Mental health care and drug treatment services have deep wells of public support in Chicago.
 
The survey says that a whopping 83.7% of voters want to "invest more money for mental health care" and just a fraction, 9.0%, want to "invest less." A minuscule 7.3% are undecided. Support for drug treatment lags but still draws a robust 63.0% support from those voters who want to "invest more money" compared to 22.6% who want to "invest less." 14.4% are undecided.
 
Statewide, a July 26 automated poll commissioned by The Illinois Observer of 826 likely voters found that 70.1% back "investing more money in mental health care" and that 55.4% support the same for drug treatment.
 
Behavioral healthcare advocates have long eyed a "sin tax" on booze to fund mental health and addiction programs, but have come up short in their advocacy to create a dedicated revenue stream.
 
But as lawmakers mull a post-election "grand bargain" on the budget with Governor Bruce Rauner and with the political pull that those programs now have - witness Hillary Clinton's 7-point mental health care plan rolled out recently - such a tax could be in the mix for revenue-starved Illinois.
 
Of course, the powerful Illinois Beer Distributors Association, which possesses great sway among lawmakers and a cash-rich PAC, would, among other influential players, likely stand in the way.
 
Still, with a heroin crisis digging in its heels across Illinois and a bi-partisan legislative consensus that pledges support for mental health after each firearm-linked massacre in the U.S., lawmakers could find themselves forced to fork over more cash for behavioral health in any budget deal.
 
Or not.
 
Lawmakers handed the Beer Distributors and other special interest groups a big victory last year when they approved the return of happy hour drink specials to Illinois bars, a move aimed at boosting the bottom line of the state's hospitality industry. Behavioral health care advocates may be tempted to say to legislators that they should share in the happy hour bounty, whatever it is.
 
They could also pointedly note - at least to Chicago lawmakers - that their causes are far more popular than happy hour.
 
The Insider poll finds that just 44.5% of Chicago voters approve of lawmakers' votes to return happy hour to bars and that 38.8% disapprove. 16.7% are woozily undecided.
 
Both sides may have to belly up to the rail and battle it out.
 
Cheers.

davidormsby@davidormsby.com