Bag tax opponents push recycling over fees
Lawmakers say city should seek other options
The City Council should drop its quest to have shoppers pay five cents for each plastic bag they use to carry their groceries out of the supermarket and instead explore expanding its waste recycling program, according to state lawmakers who voted to stop the council in its tracks.
The City Council approved the 5-cents-a-bag law last year as an environmental protection measure. Under the new law, store-owners are mandated to charge 5 cents for each plastic bag. The merchant will keep the money generated by the bag fee. The law was scheduled to go into effect on Feb. 15.
But if the city wants to look out for the environment, it should follow New York state’s lead, said Assemblymember Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Sheepshead Bay), who noted that the state has proven that recycling plastic bags is possible.
Cymbrowitz co-sponsored the bill approved by the state Assembly on Feb. 6 that orders the city to delay implementation of the plastic bag fee law for at least a year. The state Senate had approved the bill the day before. State Sen. Simcha Felder (D-Borough Park-Midwood) sponsored the legislation in the senate.
At press time, Gov. Andrew Cuomo had not yet signaled if he planned to sign the legislature’s bill.
In any event, the city would do well to investigate the possibility of recycling plastic bags, Cymbrowitz said.
“It is up to the city to figure out how to remove and recycle bags before they reach landfills. I’m hopeful that the moratorium I co-sponsored will allow more time to work out a solution to the plastic bag dilemma that’s environmentally sound but does not place a financial burden on already overtaxed New Yorkers,” he said in a statement.
If the City Council does seek to reintroduce the plastic bag fee, it will be a new crop of council members taking the action.
Under the state bill, the fee could only be reauthorized by a new council with members who begin their terms on or after Jan. 1, 2018.
Due to the city’s term limits law, several council members will be leaving office at the end of 2017.
And that’s just fine with Felder, who is chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Cities.
“So many of my neighbors and constituents are breathing a sigh of relief now that this bag tax is over,” he said.
Felder noted that both the Senate and Assembly bills passed by wide margins. The Senate approved the bill in a 43-16 vote. The Assembly passed the legislation 122-15.
The recent action taken by the legislature marked the second time Albany has stepped in to stop the city from moving ahead with the plastic bag fee program.
When the council first enacted legislation to create the fee, it was scheduled to go into effect in October of 2016. After the state raised objections, the city decided to implementation until Feb. 15.
But not everyone is happy with the latest developments.
The importance of saving the environment is an issue that cannot be ignored, according to Assemblymember Robert Carroll (D-Park Slope). Carroll voted against postponing the law.
“Remove one plastic bag from a store, and you remove one plastic bag from a tree, a landfill, an ocean,” Carroll said.
Carroll offered an alternative to shoppers. “It’s easy to avoid paying this fee. If you don’t want to pay it, just bring a reusable bag with you,” he said.