by Kristina Rasmussen
The Cook County Board of Commissioners is looking at a broad array of tax and fee hikes to make up for a budget shortfall, and significant increases for wine, beer, and liquor taxes are all on the menu. These tax hikes pose a direct threat to local bar and restaurant operators, many of whom are already struggling in a troubled economy.
I recently spoke with Yasmin Curtis, owner and operator of The Game. Her sports bar is located in the Bronzeville neighborhood, and she's concerned about how higher taxes would hurt her bottom line.
"I will be affected by these tax hikes, no doubt about it," said Curtis. "The base cost of the product would be the same, but my mark up would have to go up to cover the taxes. And if I'm taxed more, that eliminates the specials I can afford to offer to get customers in the door."
As a new proprietor still establishing a reputation with customers, Curtis is especially concerned about how the changes will affect the experience level of wait staff that she can afford to hire: "Higher taxes hurts the hiring of more experienced staff, and that affects revenue. Good staff makes a big difference in repeat business, but if I can't afford to hire them, I'll have to go without. Plus, it hurts my marketing budget."
"I've read some information, and Chicago is among the highest [for liquor taxes]," explained Curtis. "Boston and New York City both have lower taxes. This is my hometown. Taxes are high enough already."
Policy changes lives. Members of the Cook County Board can help Ms. Curtis and her small business thrive by refocusing budget discussions away from tax hikes and on spending reforms instead.