The City Council’s controversial plastic bag fee legislation — which passed on May 5 — may be held up in Albany thanks to opposition from state legislators, who call the fee is a “tax on the poor” that targets low-income residents, the elderly and others on fixed-incomes.
The Senate this month passed a bill, proposed by Senator Simcha Felder, to override the City Council’s legislation and block municipalities from imposing the five-cent fee on merchandiser bags.
The legislation is now up for a vote in the Assembly. However, Speaker Carl Heastie and City Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito, agreed to delay the Assembly’s vote, as well as the implementation of the bag fee until February, according to Kings County Politics and The New York Post, which is notably after the November election cycle.
“Although its intention is noble, the bag tax is a poorly vetted idea that doesn’t stand up to increased scrutiny,” he said in a statement. “Plastic bags are not single use items — they are both reusable and recyclable. Since 2009, New York State has proven that recycling plastic bags is possible and the City should figure out how to remove and recycle bags before they reach landfills, not how to nickel-and-dime New Yorkers.”
The plastic bag fee legislation is intended to cut New Yorker’s reliance on environmentally hazardous single-use shopping bags, of which New Yorkers contribute roughly 10 billion bags to landfills every year, according to the Department of Sanitation.
As we reported last month, the legislation stirred fierce controversy in the city council, where it narrowly passed 28-20.
For bag fee supporters, the goal isn’t to extort more taxes from impoverished New Yorkers, but to encourage shoppers to carry reusable bags, after similar legislation effectively in reduced waste in Washington DC and San Francisco.
City Councilman Brad Lander, who sponsored the city’s bill, doesn’t sound discouraged by the legislation’s delay in Albany.
“The plastic bag got a short reprieve — but its days of littering our trees, parks, and oceans, clogging up our storm drains and recycling equipment, and filling up our landfills with tons of solid waste are numbered,” Lander said, according to Kings County Politics. “The extra few months will allow us to do an even better job of outreach and reusable bag giveaways to help New Yorkers in all communities get ready to start bringing their own bags.”
But the plastic bag fee debate seems to have divided New York City along economic lines, exposing a larger question of who should bear the burden of DeBlasio’s ambitious program to eliminate New York City’s solid waste by 2030.
“It’s about time New York City stops nickel and diming residents,” Felder told the Wall Street Journal. “New Yorkers do not like being manipulated, they do not like being aggravated and they do not need government to irritate them” in order to change their behavior.
But irritation is at the core of Lander’s strategy to curb the city’s waste. “The fee is irritating, which is precisely why it works,” her told The New York Times. “We don’t want to pay it so we’ll bring bags instead. So the fact that it’s irritating irritates a lot of people.”
The irritation has reached a fevered pitch in Albany, where the anti-fee bill will wait dormant until February. Senator Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat told the Wall Street Journal that tensions over the plastic bag fee have hit such a climax, “you’d think the apocalypse is about to dawn on us.”
(Alex Ellefson contributed reporting for this story.)