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Public not amused by new Cook County tax proposals

Proposals to expand the amusement tax to Cook County cable TV subscribers and institute a new tax on e-cigarettes are “dying a slow death,” County Commissioner John Daley said Tuesday during a public hearing on the 2016 county budget.

Watching television and huffing e-cigarettes may not be the best of habits, but e-cig vendors and residents worried about rising cable bills packed County Board chambers for the third of four public hearings on the spending plan.

“Ma’am, you realize the likelihood of this passing is very, very nearly nil,” Daley told a Calumet Park woman who said senior citizens would struggle to pay their cable bills if the amusement tax expansion passes.

After the hearing, Daley told the Sun-Times that the new taxes are a tough sell, coming after the county passed a penny-on-the-dollar sales tax increase in July.  County commissioners are trying to close a budget deficit projected at nearly $200 million.

“I just don’t think it’s got the votes,” said Daley, the Finance Committee chairman. “I think [Board President Toni Preckwinkle] is already looking at other options.”

In a statement, Preckwinkle spokesman Frank Shuftan said Tuesday the administration was aware of taxpayers’ concerns, but warned there are few options to close the budget gap without new revenue.

“(T)o be very clear — we simply cannot rely only on traditional revenue sources, some of which have declined in recent years,” Shuftan wrote. “Without additional revenue, agencies and departments across the County will be faced with further workforce reductions.”

Preckwinkle had announced last month that she intended to push to extend the county’s 3 percent amusement tax to include golf, bowling, cable television and secondary sales of sports tickets. She also proposed a new tax on the liquids used inside of e-cigarettes that would charge 20 cents for every milliliter of liquid sold.

That came on the heels of a penny-on-the-dollar sales tax increase passed by the County Board this summer that will start lightening wallets Jan. 1, as well as a $540 million property tax increase passed by the Chicago City Council last month.

Commissioners Richard Boykin and John Fritchey, who both voted against the sales-tax increase, held a press conference in the lobby of the County Building during the hearing to voice opposition to the amusement tax. Boykin suggested the county could raise revenue with a tax on ammunition. Fritchey Tuesday issued a statement proposing a 1-percent across-the-board cut to county spending, which he said would eliminate the need for the amusement tax.

Contributing: Mitch Dudek