The City Council’s controversial plastic bag fee legislation — which passed on May 5 — is being held up in Albany thanks to opposition from state legislators, who call the fee is a “tax on the poor” targeting lower income residents, the elderly and others on fixed-incomes.
But now opposition has escalated beyond statements and petitions. On Tuesday June 7, the Senate passed a bill, proposed by local Senator Simcha Felder, to override City Council’s legislation and block municipalities from imposing the five-cent fee on merchandiser bags.
Felder’s bill passed in the Senate assembly 36-22, but Speaker Carl Heastie and City Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito agreed to delay the final Assembly vote until February, reported Kings County Politics and The Post, which is notably after the November election cycle.
The plastic bag fee legislation, set to begin October 1, 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. Debate raged between pro-bag fee Council Member Brad Lander, representing Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington, and Boro Park; and anti-bag fee Council Member Chaim Deutsch, representing sections of Midwood, Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay. Council Member Laurie Cumbo voted in favor of the bill following a contentious town hall.The issue divided many other council members as well, including David Greenfield, who’s district includes Borough Park, Midwood and Bensonhurst. Greenfield voted against the legislation, while Jumaane Willams representing neighboring Flatbush, voted in favor of the fee after conducting a study of its impact on low-income residents.
For Lander and other 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.
And Lander doesn’t sound discouraged by the legislation’s delay in the Senate. Kings County Politics reports: “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,” said Lander. “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,” declared State Senator Simcha Felder, who introduced the anti-fee bill in the State Senate. Felder represents Senate district 17, which includes Boro Park, parts of Midwood, Kensington, Ditmas Park, Flatbush, and Sheepshead Bay. Felder, who blocked an earlier version of a plastic bag fee during his time on the City Council, 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,” Councilman Brad Lander 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.”