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Cook County delays collecting booze, tobacco, other taxes to give struggling businesses ‘some breathing room’

The county’s Home Rule taxes — which include the alcoholic beverage, amusement, tobacco, gasoline and hotel accommodations taxes — have been deferred for the February and March tax periods until May. No penalties or interest will be applied during the extension period.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle unveils the county’s economic relief package in March.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle unveils the county’s economic relief package Thursday.
Brian Rich/ Sun-Times.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced Thursday that the county will waive a number of fines and fees and defer the collection of some taxes to aid businesses grappling with coronavirus containment efforts.

“This is no ordinary time,” Preckwinkle said at a Thursday news conference. “The [coronavirus] pandemic is not only a public health crisis, but also an economic, financial crisis. ... We hope this can provide some breathing room for businesses that are struggling. We recognize that you are worried about rents, about payroll about mounting bills — you should not be worried that the tax collector is coming after you as well.”

The county’s Home Rule taxes — which include the alcoholic beverage, amusement, tobacco, gasoline and hotel accommodations taxes — have been deferred for the February and March tax periods until May. No penalties or interest will be applied during the extension period.

Consumers will still be required to pay the taxes when making purchases, but the store or other business will get a break in the time frame for forwarding the revenue to the county.

Fines and fees typically administered by the Departments of Transportation and Highways, Environment and Sustainability, Revenue, Building and Zoning and Public Health will also be delayed or extended, with many not needing to be paid until July or August.

For businesses, the relief plan could free up about $35 million, which is the amount of money the county normally sees from the collection of those taxes.

Ammar Rizki, the county’s chief financial officer, said that the move will hit the county’s pocketbook, but reserves will allow the government body to stay afloat.

“We’ve been preparing for a downturn through ... prudent fiscal management, and so that allows us to be able to manage this stuff and share some of that burden with our businesses,” Rizki said.

Key business groups support the measures.

The relief “allows businesses to have access to extra cash flow that is vital for them to maintain operations and to keep people employed,” said Jack Lavin, the CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

Tanya Triche Dawood, vice president and general counsel of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, said the plan is “a wonderful example of how local governments can be a great source of help to business owners, at a critical time of need.”

“While our grocery stores are filled with customers, other segments of the retail industry are frankly still just trying to hold on,” Dawood said. “Delaying the payment of taxes and fines and fees and eliminating fines and fees while the delay is occurring provides critical liquidity, which is the number one thing that I’m hearing from business owners that they need right now. They need cash flow, they need access to cash. This is exactly what this measure will do for them.”