Poll: Public supports cigarette tax hike

Posted: 4/15/2010

From The State Journal-Register
By John Guidroz

The public supports an increase in Illinois' cigarette tax, advocates say, but the idea could be in for tough sledding in the General Assembly.

A poll released Thursday by the Illinois Coalition Against Tobacco found that voters statewide supported raising the cigarette tax by $1 - from 98 cents per pack to $1.98.

Of the 502 people who were surveyed, 74 percent supported the increase. That total included 71 percent of Republicans, 81 percent of Democrats and 68 percent of independents.

Even 42 percent of smokers said they support a cigarette tax increase, the survey found.

Supporters said the tax increase was the best way to fix the state's $13 billion budget deficit. Other options, including higher income taxes, higher sales taxes and higher vehicle registration fees, were largely opposed.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and other public health agencies said a $1 increase in the state's cigarette tax would raise nearly $300 million each year.

However, opponents say a higher tax would hurt businesses close to states with cheaper tax rates.

Rep. Karen Yarbrough, D-Maywood, said Senate Bill 44, which would raise taxes on cigarettes by 50 cents each year for two years, is about 10 votes shy of approval in the House. The measure was approved in the Senate last April.

Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, said the bill is doomed because of opposition from lawmakers who represent districts along state borders.

Black's district borders Indiana, where cigarettes are taxed at 99 cents a pack. He said a $1.98 per pack tax would send Illinois smokers across the state line.

"They go to Indiana...buy a carton of cigarettes (and) fill up their car with gas," he said. "So I get a sales tax bleed, and we can't afford it."

Yarbrough said House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, supports higher tobacco taxes. But Black said the bill would already have been voted on if it had enough legislative support.

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said he's surprised by House opposition.

"Why wouldn't this be one of the most obvious bills to pass?" he asked.

An Illinois tax of $1.98 per pack would put the state above Iowa ($1.36), Missouri (17 cents) and Kentucky (60 cents).

Illinois currently has the 32nd highest tobacco tax rate nationally. The national average for cigarette taxes is $1.38 per pack.

Original here.