Cook County commissioner proposes gas tax increase to create job opportunities, reduce violence

Rishika Dugyala, Assistant City Editor

Evanston residents’ motor fuel taxes may increase to fund violence reduction and job programs in Cook County if a bill introduced Monday is approved by county officials.

The bill calls for an additional county-wide 4 cents-per-gallon tax that is estimated to generate about $50 million in its first year, said Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin, who introduced the bill Monday. The funds would go toward four employment, violence prevention, disability and community policing initiatives that serve the country.

The tax — which would increase from 6 cents-per-gallon to 10 cents-per-gallon — would add about $28 per year to residents’ average gasoline bills, Boykin said.

“It’s a modest investment for maximum return in terms of having a youth employment jobs bill, having community stabilization,” he said. “Many communities where most of this gun violence is existing has the highest level of unemployment throughout Cook County, and so we believe that motorists, people who pay for gas, will gladly pay a little bit more on the front end as opposed to paying on the back end through the criminal justice system.”

Susie Hall, the administrative assistant at the Evanston city manager’s office, said the city will not receive any funds resulting from the potential tax — only the county would collect the money.

If the bill passes, four county initiatives will receive funding. Cook County Jobs Council would receive the vast majority of the funds, with $45 million allocated to expanding employment opportunities for residents.

Cook County Parenting to Prevent Violence would receive $2 million to provide grants to area organizations that would help support parents. Cook County Office for People with Disabilities would receive $1 million to connect individuals with resources and services. Cook County Community Policing Initiative would receive the last $2 million to hire 15 to 20 officers in high-crime areas.

Sheriff Thomas Dart, who serves Cook County, announced his support of Boykin’s tax proposal at a news conference Monday, saying there is a need for additional funding for programs to counter violence among youth.

“They’ll tell me over and over again ‘Well, I can always make money selling dope,’” Dart said at the press conference. “We’ve got to give them better options than that.”

A committee will consider the bill on April 13, and the Cook County Board of Commissioners will ultimately decide whether or not to pass the tax increase. Boykin said he hopes the committee passes the bill quickly so the programs can start by the summer of 2017.

“The No. 1 obligation of an elected official is to protect the people that we represent, and right now, we’re not doing a good job of that because too many people are being gunned down,” Boykin said. “And so we’ve got to give people opportunities to get off these street corners and into a career path.”

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