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Bar owners say alcohol tax hike will kill business

6-11-08 Ald Brendan Reilly jokes with reporters before the City Council meeting where they would vote of a proposal to move the Children's Museum from Navy Pier to Grant Park that he opposed. Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

The usually tipsy pre-Bears game crowd at Butch McGuire’s on Division Street looked a bit different Sunday at a roundtable talk of a proposal that could increase Cook County’s alcohol tax by 50 percent.

A vote by the Cook County Board could come as soon as Monday and would raise the tax on beer from 6 cents per gallon to 9 cents per gallon.

Seated with small business owners and tax opponents, Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) said the increase is not a “budget buster,” and he hopes commissioners can come up with a different solution.

If approved, the proposal would mark the fourth alcohol tax hike since 2005.

“It would be my argument that the county may need to look a little closer at those opportunities [cuts] rather than raising those liquor taxes,” Reilly said. “I don’t know how this will be resolved. I’m not advocating a specific solution, perhaps it’s a whittled down tax increase or a blended approach where they find some additional cuts, but I understand this is amounting to about $11 million annually.”

Bobby McGuire, owner of the popular Gold Coast bar, said the tax increase would cut jobs, “targets the hospitality industry and makes it difficult for independent operators to keep the doors open.” Small business owners would take the hit, he said.

Amick Viccellio, a bartender and server, said he fears the tax increase would have a ripple effect on bars in the bustling neighborhood: “It’s not going to be good for us. It’s really going to affect the businesses here.”

County Board President Toni Preckwinkle last week argued the tax increase will be good for the health of those who drink too much. She also said the tax increase would be offset by a decrease in the sales tax.