The Illinois Senate this afternoon narrowly passed a bill 31-27 to raise the cigarette tax a dollar a pack – sending it to Gov. Pat Quinn who will enthusiastically sign the measure. The bill impacts smokers, who now must pay $1.98 in taxes per pack.
It is also intended to greatly impact state Medicaid payments – the levy is supposed to generate $700 million a year, which includes $350 million in federal matching funds. Also, included in the bill is $100 million in anticipated revenue from hospital assessments.
If both of these revenue sources come through, Illinois should cover its $2.7 billion in unfunded Medicaid liabilities for next fiscal year, which begins July 1. The state legislature has already approved $1.6 billion in yearly Medicaid cuts.
In a statement released this afternoon Quinn praised lawmakers, saying they “rose to the occasion to save our Medicaid system from the brink of collapse.” The governor claimed that the tax would act as a major smoking deterrent. “The legislation will help 60,000 people quit smoking," Quinn stated.
The tax is also a triumph for progressive health care advocates, albeit a much more subdued victory. Groups like Access Living and Voices for Illinois Children view the levy as the one good part in an overall bad Medicaid austerity package. These groups wanted a further focus on revenue, instead of cuts.
Also today, the Illinois House Judiciary Committee passed 8-1 a bill that would bring back a version of the state’s early release prison program. The bill, which now goes to the full House, gives sentence credits to non-violent offenders, enabling some to enter prison alternatives such as substance abuse treatment centers.
Gov. Quinn yanked a version of the early release program in 2010 after it became a controversial campaign issue. But this early release bill has encountered little opposition – it cleared the Illinois Senate 55-1 Friday.
A couple of other bills that bear watching over the next 48 hours, with the spring legislative session scheduled to wrap up Thursday:
*A bill to effectively stop an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement detention center in Crete was referred to the House Rules Committee yesterday. It will not be considered until tomorrow at the earliest, as the House adjourned mid-afternoon today, despite the packed legislative calendar.
* Another bill stuck in the House Rules Committee is a ratepayer-subsidized energy plant in Taylorville that would be operated by Nebraska-based Tenaska, Inc. The legislation has not moved despite a pledge by Tenaska to initially run the plant on natural gas, as opposed to starting out with a costlier coal gasification plan.