Preckwinkle: Hotel tax needed to fill county deficit

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If approved, a 1 percent county levy would raise the overall Chicago hotel tax to 17.4 percent. (WLS)

In an effort to solve the county's budget problems, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is proposing a county tax on hotels which would replace an amusement tax that failed to get much support.

On Friday, prior to a pre-taping of ABC7's Newsviews, Preckwinkle spoke publicly for the first time about her proposed 1 percent hotel tax. She said the money is needed to resolve $20 million of the Cook County budget deficit.

"It's a pretty modest impact and we think that it will fill the budget hole that we've addressed," Preckwinkle said.

County commissioners balked at Preckwinkle's plan to raise the tax on amusements including cable television. She reportedly has mustered enough votes for the hotel levy and a separate tax on ammunition.

"It's going to be used for public safety and public safety programs," said Commissioner Richard Boykin, D-Chicago/Western suburbs.

If approved, a 1 percent county levy would raise the overall tax on a city of Chicago hotel to 17.4 percent.

"It's higher than any city we compete with," said Marc Gordon, of the Illinois Hotel and Lodging Association. "Las Vegas is 12 percent, Orlando is 12 and a half."

Gordon said the increased tax might cause some conventions to choose cities other than Chicago.

"And hotels then have to cut back and start laying people off," Gordon said.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel -- in whose city the tax increase would affect the most hotels --did not appear concerned.

"There's a tremendous amount of resilience and strength in the tourism and visitors industry which has already set a milestone of 50 million visitors," Emanuel said.

Preckwinkle admitted her switch from an amusement tax on individuals to a tax on hotels was made for political reasons.

"I think it's fair to say that we look for opportunities that would have minimal impact on our constituents and residents," Preckwinkle said.

Some hotel owners have called increasing the overall tax risky.
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