Cook County tax on ammo criticized as a ‘modern day poll tax’

A cook County tax on ammunition takes effect June 1.  

A per-bullet tax on ammunition set to take effect in June in Cook County is expected to provide over $300,000 in new revenue a year, but the tax faces serious opposition at the state level.

“The gun tax is nothing more than a modern day poll tax against the poor,” John Boch, executive director of the pro-gun Guns Save Life group told Illinois Business Daily in an email. “Gun control is racist, classist and sexist--we don't support those things.”

The latest tax is part of a $4.5 billion budget approved last November for the county, which includes roughly $500 million in new spending funded primarily by various sales tax increases, including the ammo tax.

A bill currently in the Illinois General Assembly, however, could stop those ammunition tax increases and even possibly roll back previous ones. House Bill 4348 would take away the power for local governments to impose sales tax increases on weapons and ammunition, stating that cities and home rule communities “may not impose any tax, fee or other assessment other than the normal sales tax rate for goods, on any firearms, firearm attachments or firearm ammunition.” Boch said he hoped the bill would preempt any legal action the group might take against the new taxes.

“The tax might be legal, but it's not constitutional,” he writes.

The ammunition tax will charge an additional 5 cents per round of centerfire ammunition, which are common in modern pistols and hunting rifles, and an additional 1 cent per bullet for “rimfire” ammunition. The move is estimated by the county to be able to generate approximately $320,000 more per year, which will be used to fund public health and safety programs.

In addition to the ammunition tax, Cook County also imposes a $25 tax on the sale of firearms.

Proponents of this, and other measures to tax or otherwise limit access to firearms and ammunition, argue that the measures are necessary to combat gun violence in Cook County and elsewhere. The city of Chicago - the population of which makes up most of Cook County - had a far-reaching handgun ban in place for decades, until it was overturned by a Supreme Court decision in 2010. Homicides rose in the city in 2015 by 21 percent over the previous year, prompting many aldermen to call for the resignation of police Superintendent Gerry McCarthy.

But Boch argues that the county should reform sentencing, not firearm access, in order to address issues of violent crime. He said such efforts to limit probation and parole for violent offenders resulted in low homicide rates for Florida.

“Florida puts armed violent offenders in prison for a generation or more without probation, parole or plea bargains,” Boch wrote. “Illinois prison time, on the other hand, is like dog years in reverse - get sentenced to eight years, get out in a year.”

Among the most controversial of the recently approved budget measures was a 1 percent increase in hotel taxes. Marc Gordon, president and CEO of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association, testified before commissioners at the budget meeting that the industry faced a tough year, and a hotel tax would only make things worse.

"If you pass this Cook County hotel tax, the jobs of thousands of hotel employees who live in all 17 of your districts will be at risk,” Gordon told commissioners.

The hotel tax increase is expected to raise an additional $31 million per year.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said following the budget hearing that the county still faced an uncertain future with upcoming budgets despite the various increases and did not rule out the possibility for more sales tax increases in the future. She met with Finance Committee Chairman John Daley just before the vote to pass the budget.

“What we talked about is how difficult these next several years are going to be," Preckwinkle said after the vote.

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