State must stop NYC’s bag fee

OP-ED from Crain’s New York:

By Bob Friedrich

Unless Albany acts this week, New Yorkers will again feel the hands of city government reaching into their pockets. The disciples of social engineering and behavior modification in the City Council last year passed a 5-cent fee on the use of “single-use” bags and twice that if you double-bag your groceries. Passage of the misnamed “plastic bag fee,” which also includes paper bags, was approved last year and set to become law next week. The fee will add hundreds of dollars to a family’s annual grocery bill and will surely shake out whatever loose change remains in the family piggy bank.

Enacted in the name of the environment, a pretext to justify imposing new taxes and fees on already tapped out New Yorkers, it’s just the latest assault on the wallets of everyday taxpayers. But truth be told, the bag fee also applies to nonpolluting, biodegradable plastic and paper bags, making it obvious that the law is more about social engineering than reducing pollution. The City Council must stop using the environment as a subterfuge and the public as guinea pigs in their social experiments to pluck out every-last dollar.

The arrogance of the “progressive” City Council is stunning, especially when juxtaposing its rhetoric about affordability with its actions that ignore the middle class while provoking a new class warfare. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“food stamp”) users and others on similar entitlement programs are exempt from the bag fee and may use as many bags as they wish cost-free, while taxpayers who pay for those entitlements are penalized for each plastic or paper bag they use. Two individuals on the same grocery line; one receives unlimited free bags while the other must pay. Contrary to the City Council’s assertion that this bill will have little financial impact on shoppers, their action exempting the poorest among us belies their hollow rhetoric. Supporters may believe this law is eco-friendly, but to most shoppers it’s “eco-nomically” unfriendly.

Just a handful of council members could have made a huge difference had they voted to oppose the bill. Instead, these “champions of the poor” have all but ignored the middle class by imposing this cost burden on working-class families and seniors, many on fixed incomes and struggling daily to pay rent and make ends meet. These constituents can thank the City Council for adding 10 cents to the cost of water and every other heavy item requiring a double bag. The last thing they need is to pay for something that used to be free at the local grocery counter.

Most families resourcefully reuse grocery store bags as wastebasket liners, trash bags or for dog pick-up. They are not “single-use bags,” as proponents of the law claim. Pushing individuals to use reusable bags creates another type of environmental hazard. These reusable bags are often petroleum- or lead-based and require regular cleaning to eliminate food-borne toxins. Are we simply trading one set of problems for another?

The ideological crusade to micromanage behavior is another example of the city’s overreach and misplaced priorities. New York is already the heaviest taxed city in the nation and nickel-and-diming its citizens sends the wrong message. Instead of working overtime creating regulatory petty annoyances in the daily lives of New Yorkers, the City Council would be better served restraining its bloated budget and repairing its crumbling infrastructure.

The state Senate and Assembly have just voted to block the city’s law, leaving it to the governor to nail the bag fee’s coffin shut. Until he does, it seems that the fix is in the bag.

Read more from Crain’s New York…

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