The early demise of two bills that would have placed a 25-cent tax on single-use plastic and paper carryout bags in California underscores state budgetary pressures that are likely to influence any additional efforts to tax or ban plastic bags in California.
The two bills, both carried over from the 2009 legislative session, were killed Jan. 21 while they were held in the state Assembly Appropriations Committee.
I think it sends a message that any new spending will be looked at with a critical eye, said Tim Shestek, director of state, government and grass-root affairs in California for the American Chemistry Council. They were dispatched fairly quickly.
The state estimates the initial startup costs to impose the 25-cent fee would have been in the neighborhood of $300,000 with annual enforcement costs of $1 million.
But the demise of those two bills does not mean proposals to tax or ban bags won't surface again in the California Legislature, individual cities in that state or other U.S. states and cities.
In California, environmental groups hope to persuade legislators to look at a smaller, 5-cent to 10-cent tax on plastic bags now that the proposal for the higher 25-cent fee has been killed. In addition, St. Helena, Berkeley and Marin County, California, are considering bans on plastic bags, and the city of Encinitas is studying proposals to tax or ban plastic bags.
In Texas, Lubbock is weighing whether to follow the lead of Brownsville, Texas, which earlier this year became the 12th U.S. city to ban plastic bags, with its ban effective next Jan. 1.
At the state level, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is scheduled to make its final recommendations Feb. 1 on how to achieve the state's 75 percent recycling goal by 2020. A draft report, since withdrawn, had proposed a 5-cent tax on plastic bags starting in 2011, which would have increased to 25 cents in 2014, followed by a ban in 2015.
Both Virginia and Maryland have introduced proposals to place a 5-cent tax on all plastic and paper shopping bags which would mimic the 5-cent fee on such bags that went into effect Jan. 1 in the nation's capital.
In both Maryland and Virginia, startup and enforcement costs are one of the hurdles because of budget deficits in both states. A Maryland legislative analysis found that annual enforcement costs would be at least $200,000.
That same analysis also estimated the 5-cent fee could raise nearly $4 million in revenue. However, that depends on how a bag tax would affect bag use, as major retailers in Washington, D.C., report use has dropped in half since the 5-cent fee was imposed.
Likewise, whether Marin County will enact its ban on paper and plastic carryout bags by Earth Day (April 22) as its backers had hoped is uncertain as supervisor Judy Arnold, president of the Board of Supervisors for Marin County, has said that a bag ban is not one of her priorities because of the county's budget deficit.
Marin County is one of 10 local governments that are part of Green Cities California. Members share best practices for sustainable public policy. The organization is collaborating to develop a master environmental assessment on the impact of plastic bag bans, which the coalition hopes will preclude future lawsuits to overturn bans.
The other nine communities in the coalition are Berkeley, Los Angeles, Pasadena, Sacramento, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Barbara and Santa Monica.
But whether it is state or local efforts, Shestek questions the logic of fees that would raise consumer costs in the current economic climate or bans that could lead to workers at affected companies losing their jobs.
It is mind-boggling that anyone would consider proposals that would raise consumer costs or potentially put someone on unemployment, Shestek said. If people want to do something legislatively, we are willing to entertain ideas that stop short of banning our products or placing unreasonable fees on them.
Shestek said Arlington, Va.-based ACC continues to supports a producer responsibility bill it backed last year in California. That bill would have prohibited new bans on plastic bags, created mandated levels of recycled content for single-use plastic bags, required manufacturers and distributors to pay the state a fee for each bag they sold to stores, extended mandatory at-store recycling until 2017 and established a waste-reduction goal of 50 percent for single-use carryout plastic bags by 2014.
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