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By Capitol News Illinois staff

A Democratic state lawmaker on Thursday, May 16, called Senate President John Cullerton’s proposal to raise Illinois’ usage tax on tobacco products “too unreasonable” at a time when the General Assembly is considering a slew of other tax hikes.

Cullerton announced last week he wants to increase the state’s tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1, to $2.98. That is about triple the 32 cents Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker introduced in his budget proposal.

The Senate president’s initiative would also include a 64 percent bump on the wholesale price of other tobacco products, including cigars, chewing tobacco and snuff.

But Representative Thaddeus Jones from Calumet City, said that plan would turn Illinois into a “job creator” for surrounding states.

“I appreciate President Cullerton for his advocacy, but this is the wrong way to go. We’ve gone through several phases of taxing cigarettes that now is driving businesses and driving people away from Illinois and driving them to border states, and we’ve got to stop it,” Jones said.

His constituents are already travelling to Indiana to get gas and groceries, he said. Some purchase tobacco products there as well.

Cullerton has not officially filed legislation to raise the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products, but is expected to do so next week.

Pritzker proposes $175 million for affordable housing

Lawmakers and advocates praised Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker for allocating funds for affordable housing in his proposed capital plan, but said Tuesday his proposal is not nearly enough to properly address the infrastructure need that exists in Illinois.

In a preliminary plan called “Rebuild Illinois” and shared with legislators Friday, the governor allocated $175 million to build and improve cost-effective housing options primarily for seniors, those who are homeless, and people with disabilities.

But Democratic Representative Delia Ramirez and Senator Mattie Hunter, both from Chicago, were joined by community leaders from across the state in calling for the General Assembly to allocate nearly six times that amount.

Allison Clements, executive director of the Illinois Housing Council, said increasing the level of funding available for permanent, supportive housing to $1 billion would provide a “golden opportunity.”

Not only would citizens in need of a residence be able to find one, neighborhoods would receive investment and jobs and residents would remain in Illinois, she said.

“Housing is our state’s most important economic and social infrastructure,” Clements said. “Let’s provide an opportunity for Illinois families to build wealth and rebuild our neighborhoods in urban, suburban and rural communities.”

Hunter said she knows $1 billion is a big ask from state coffers, and a leap from Pritzker’s proposal, but is confident data proves affordable housing “substantiates” the need for the request.

The coalition’s plan is to ask the General Assembly to come up with an additional $325 million, bringing the total ask to $500 million. That would enable Illinois to apply for federal matching dollars to shore up the rest.

“But we’re running out of time right now because folks are looking to pass the capital budget next week,” Hunter said, referring to the session’s scheduled end date of May 31. “Even if the $1 billion or the $500 million is not in the capital budget, we are, in the Senate, continuing to work on it until we get the money that we need to get the job done.”

Tax increase proposed for licensed gun owners

In the wake of a shooting at an Aurora workplace in February that left five people dead, lawmakers have debated how to better track Firearm Owners Identification Card holders who have had their licenses revoked.

Senate Bill 1966 was advanced to the full House on Tuesday, May 21, by the House Judiciary Committee on a vote along party lines. Sponsored by Representative Kathleen Willis, D-Addison, an amendment to the bill would require new FOID card holders and those renewing their license to submit to a fingerprint. It also would increase application fees from $10 to $50, and reduce the time a license is valid from 10 years to 5 years.

Willis said the purpose of the bill is to “keep up” with FOID revocations and create better communication between local and state law enforcement agencies.

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit news service operated by the Illinois Press Foundation that provides coverage of state government to newspapers throughout Illinois. The mission of Capitol News Illinois is to provide credible and unbiased coverage of state government to the more than 400 daily and weekly newspapers that are members of the Illinois Press Association.

This article originally appeared in the Chicago Crusader. 

Democrat proposes tax increase on cigarettes

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