Cigarette tax hike runs into opposition
Republicans push back on Democratic bid for $1-a-pack increase to pay for statewide construction program
ct-met-cigarette-tax-0316-20110315SPRINGFIELD — A Democratic push for a $1-a-pack cigarette tax increase to pay for a statewide construction program ran into Republican opposition Tuesday.
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, plans to roll out the tobacco tax hike Wednesday as a replacement for revenue from a liquor tax increase that's in limbo following an appellate court decision in January that tossed out the state's $31 billion construction program on a technicality.
Republicans charged Cullerton is manufacturing a crisis over the construction money as a way to push the cigarette tax hike because he has long sought an increase in the 98 cents-per-pack the state now levies. Officials with both Gov. Pat Quinn's budget office and the state transportation department said no road or construction programs are held up this year because of the appellate court decision.
"There's no reason to rush and do this right now unless you want a convenient excuse to raise another tax," said Republican Sen. Matt Murphy of Palatine, a leader on state funding issues.
In pushing the cigarette tax, Cullerton could be trying to avoid forcing his Senate Democrats to take another straight-up vote on video gambling. The 2009 law that's in limbo legalized video poker in addition to raising liquor taxes.
But Cullerton's proposal would not call for reinstating the video poker law. Instead, he's leaving that up to Republicans to push, an aide said. Video gambling has been controversial, and several towns have voted against allowing it.
Cullerton said the cigarette tax revenues would keep flowing into the construction fund even if video gambling starts in Illinois. There simply would be more money to pay for construction projects, he said.
Abortion bill flap
Measures dealing with abortion rights often go to health committees. On Tuesday, however, a controversial abortion measure went before the House Agriculture and Conservation Committee.
The agriculture panel, which is dominated by conservative downstate lawmakers, recommended approval of legislation to require abortion clinics to meet a higher set of outpatient regulations.
Colleen Connell, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, objected to the proposal and to where it was heard. She charged the only reason the legislation, sponsored by Rep. Darlene Senger, R-Naperville, went before the agriculture committee was because the conservative lawmakers have a record of being "hostile to abortion rights."