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House approves cigarette tax hike

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SPRINGFIELD — Illinois smokers could soon have to cough up an extra dollar for a pack of cigarettes after the Illinois House today approved a cigarette tax hike of $1 per pack, pushing it from 98 cents to $1.98.

By Andrew Thomason

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois smokers could soon have to cough up an extra dollar for a pack of cigarettes after the Illinois House today approved a cigarette tax hike of $1 per pack, pushing it from 98 cents to $1.98.

The measure passed as supporters watched the number of yes votes hit 60, the minimum number needed for approval. Fifty-two representatives voted against the measure, which goes to the Illinois Senate, where similar legislation has been approved in past years, only to die in the House.

The impetus for the yes votes in the House this time was the skyrocketing cost of Medicaid in the state. Revenues from the sin tax will go toward paying for Medicaid, and were part of a larger Medicaid reform package, which includes $1.6 billion in cuts from the health care system.

The backlog of overdue Medicaid bills was set to hit $21 billion by 2017.

State Rep. Barbara Flynn-Currie, D-Chicago, carried the legislation in the House. She said the tax hike is expected to bring in $350 million annually. The state will effectively double its money; the federal government will match the state's $350 million, resulting in $700 million for Medicaid.

Bill Fleischli is executive director of the Illinois Petroleum Marketers Association/Illinois Association of Convenience Stores, which lobbies for gas stations and convenience stores in Springfield. He cautioned that increasing the cost of cigarettes will drive smokers, and dollars, from Illinois.

"Our customers who purchase cigarettes will go to border communities, the Internet, or through illegal vendors. And when they cross the borders they will buy other ancillary items, costing us money and the state of Illinois money," Fleischli said.

State Rep. Jim Sacia is a Republican from Rockford. His legislative district borders Wisconsin, but he voted in favor of the tax hike.

"For even those of us that represent long expanses of border areas … we have an obligation to stand and vote yes on this very necessary piece of legislation," Sacia said.

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