ROSELAND — The mayor is not about to cut city smokers any slack.
Asked Tuesday at a Roseland news conference if there were any hope of compromise on his call for a 75-cent-a-pack increase in city cigarette taxes, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said simply, "No."
Emanuel went on to call it not a tax but "a health-care fee," adding, "It's the right thing to do as a public-health initiative to prevent those from starting smoking, and it's right to use the resources to protect our kids and enrolling them in Medicaid and getting them free eye care and eye exams."
Budget Director Alexandra Holt has estimated the city cigarette tax, which is more than doubling from 68 cents to $1.43 a pack, will bring in $10 million. Part of that money has been earmarked to expand Medicaid enrollment for eligible Chicago Public Schools students and to expand a CPS vision program. The proposal cleared a council committee this week.
Yet several aldermen have raised concerns about the higher tax encouraging a black market in loose and untaxed cigarettes, as well as city merchants losing business, especially on the boundaries.
"Wards like mine, I think that's gonna create a larger problem," said Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) Tuesday, referring to his Pullman and Roseland neighborhoods on the southern edge of the city. He added that he was not ready to put out the fire on budget negotiations, which figure to continue into next week.
"Until we vote on it, nothing is set in stone," Beale said. "Everything's on the table. The budget's not voted on. We'll still have some more negotiating to do."
The City Council is expected to defer and publish the 2014 budget Wednesday for passage next week, but aldermen have already pushed for amendments including a proposal to budget for an increase in police officers, expected to get a hearing on Monday.