A proposed 5-cent tax on every bullet sold in Cook County has been dropped by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
The ammo tax will not be in next year's proposed county budget after all, Preckwinkle announced Wednesday, but she will retain the planned $25 tax on all firearms sales. A spokesman for Preckwinkle said the ammo tax was met with "concerns" by some commissioners.
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Combined, the two taxes were initially estimated to generate $1 million a year in additional revenue. The money raised through the new taxes was earmarked to the county's health care system to help cover the cost of gun violence, Preckwinkle said when she initially announced her budget. County budget officials believe the gun tax will still generate about $600,000 and that revenue will still be added to the county's general fund.
Some commissioners remain leery of the gun tax. Commissioner Timothy Schneider, a Republican from Bartlett, said "law-abiding citizens" are being taxed to cover the costs of criminal activities and local businesses will suffer as a result.
"You're forcing people out of Cook County to buy handguns and things they need to protect themselves," he said.
Meanwhile, Preckwinkle said she plans to commit $2 million to violence prevention, intervention and reduction programs that combat gun violence and will be overseen by an advisory committee. She did not detail where that money is coming from.
"It's going to be hard to find additional savings, but we're working on that as we speak," spokesman Owen Kilmer said. "We're looking at the hospital system in terms of delaying some hiring there."
That committee will be made up of Preckwinkle, three county board commissioners, someone with law enforcement experience and two representatives from community groups. Kilmer said Preckwinkle will make all appointments and those decisions will happen after the budget is passed.
"This money will provide needed resources to organizations on the front lines that deal with the impact of violence in their communities on a daily basis," Preckwinkle said.
Preckwinkle said the committee will also investigate the creation of a special "gun court" to adjudicate gun-related crimes in the county to provide "consistency" in sentences and expedite cases, county officials said.
The gun court proposal was news to Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans who said he received no "substantive information" about the proposal ahead of Preckwinkle's announcement.
"Before I can consider such a request, it will be necessary for me to obtain input from the judges and other criminal justice system stakeholders," Evans said. "The creation of any specialized court is, by definition, a collaborative effort which requires assurances that all individuals coming before such a court are afforded due process. The proposal to create a specialty court also demands extensive research so that an informed decision can be made."
Preckwinkle wants her advisory committee to make a recommendation on the gun court plan by July 2013.
Evans said he is directing his staff, with help from the state's attorney's office and public defender's office, to "determine whether a gun court is in the best interest of the public and the court system."
The shift on the ammo tax is not the only change Preckwinkle has made to her proposed $2.95 billion budget since she introduced it two weeks ago.
She also increased the exemption for a "use tax" aimed at businesses that buy office equipment, supplies, building materials and other items outside the county. Now, the proposed tax won't apply to the first $3,500 worth of such purchases instead of the $2,500 figure as originally proposed. That move reduced expected revenues from the new tax by $1 million.
Preckwinkle also tweaked her proposed video gambling tax by creating different taxing tiers for slot machines and video poker devices for casinos and bars. Under her new plan, casinos will pay $1,000 per device, while machines in suburban bars and veterans halls will be taxed $200 per video poker machine.