By Hal Dardick
8:44 AM CDT, October 22, 2013
Mayor Rahm Emanuel hopes to pump $13 million more into city coffers next year by raising amusement taxes on cable TV services and boosting zoning permit fees for large construction projects, City Hall officials say.
The increases are part of a series of tax and fee hikes expected to be part of the 2014 spending plan that Emanuel will present to the City Council on Wednesday. The estimated budget hole is $339 million and so far, City Hall has confirmed about $23 million in new money.
On Monday, the Emanuel administration said $9 million would come from taking away some of a tax break given to cable TV companies for nearly two decades. Cable firms would pay 6 percent instead of 4 percent in amusement taxes — a cost the companies typically pass on to customers, said Kelley Quinn, a spokeswoman for the city Budget Department.
Another $4 million would come from increased zoning application fees for construction projects of more than 10,000 square feet, and higher fees for anyone who opts to file paper zoning applications would bring in another $4 million.
A 75-cent-per-pack boost in the cigarette tax would bring in about $10 million, part of which would be used to increase the number of free eye exams and glasses for low-income students in Chicago Public Schools who fail vision screenings.
Emanuel reiterated Monday that he will not call for increasing property, sales or fuel taxes, but offered no additional details.
The tax break on cable TV service has existed in part because the city can't charge an amusement tax on satellite TV under federal law, and cable companies pay franchise fees. The mayor would spend $2 million from the cable tax hike to expand the city's Night Out in the Parks movie, concert, dance and circus offerings that have already grown more than threefold under Emanuel.
Elsewhere, the increase in zoning applications fees are designed to affect big developers, not small businesses or homeowners, and provide an extra convenience — at a cost, Quinn added.
Developers of projects that exceed 100,000 square feet would see their zoning permit costs rise by at least $3,000 — or $8,000 if they want to file in person. Those tackling projects of between 10,001 and 100,000 square feet would see their fees increase by at least $1,000 — or $5,750 if they file in person.
The only increases for new construction or renovations on projects of 10,000 square feet or less would be an extra $1,500 fee to file in person. The higher fees for filing in person are designed to provide the option of an in-person meeting that developers of large-scale projects wanted to restore after the city went paperless last year, Quinn said.
Some of the money from the cigarette tax increase would be used to expand the free vision care program for Chicago Public Schools students to $2 million from a current $1.45 million. That would increase to 45,000 from 30,000 the number of students who could get free eye exams and glasses after failing vision screenings.
Emanuel also indicated some of the cigarette tax money would be used to enroll 15,000 more children in Medicaid, the federal health care program.
"My view is, you're going to pay more if you smoke," the mayor said. "It's unhealthy, and we're going to make sure our kids get the health care coverage they have been denied or have not had access to."
Some aldermen, however, expressed concerns about the higher cigarette tax, which would make Chicago's per-pack tax the highest in the nation. Council members worry that could grow the black market, including street-corner hawkers of single cigarettes, and people who buy cartons across the Indiana border where the taxes are lower, and sell them in the city.
"At some point, it just becomes lucrative to black-market stuff," said Ald. George Cardenas, 12th. "People are going to sell them one at a time."
The mayor discounted those concerns. "There were people doing things illegal before we ever did this," said Emanuel, who added that the city and county have gone after people who try to get around the city tax laws. "We've actually done a better job of ensuring people are abiding by the law."
Emanuel also said Monday that by the end of the week, the city will have expanded blue-cart recycling pickup to all Chicago households.
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC