On Thursday, May 5, 2016, the New York City Council passed a bill that they claim is for the good of the environment and for all New Yorkers. However, this bill will do nothing more than further hurt an already financially strapped working poor and middle class struggling to make ends meet.
Wrapping themselves around the flag of being environmental do-gooders, Mayor Bill de Blasio and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito championed a five-cent tax on plastic and paper bags. Initially, a ten-cent per bag tax was planned, but it was slashed to five cents.
Initially, it was believed that several thousand angry New Yorkers stampeding City Hall with the same fervor that bulls do at a rodeo was the reason why the proposed tax was slashed in half. Sadly, the truth behind the reduced amount was that Mark-Viverito was one vote shy of a majority yes vote and scrambled to flip no votes.
The bill passed with 28-20, with three Council members abstaining from a final vote. Two Democratic Council members flipped their vote from no to yes last minute, giving Mark-Viverito enough of a majority to ensure passage of the bag tax.
In other words, more political games played at the expense of regular people like you and me. I wonder what sweetheart deals were cut to gain those extra yes votes. We’ll find out in due time!
Champions of this bill have gone on and on about environmental responsibility and how this tax is necessary to reduce one’s carbon footprint. While I am definitely in favor of preserving and saving our environment, I am against politicians who exploit environmental change to gain what they are truly after: milking consumers for more money than they can already afford.
There are two reasons why I don’t believe NY lawmakers have environmental interests at heart. For starters, if environmental waste truly was the utmost concern, the City Council would have voted to ban the bags outright, not merely levy what is tantamount to a fine or purchase fee to each plastic or paper bag used.
The second reason may be a more cynical and sinister one. Recently, I read the bombshell book ‘Nation on the Take’, in which former lobbyist Wendell Potter describes in detail the ways that special interests and corporate businesses have bought their way into government. With that in mind, I firmly believe that the reusable bag industry paid off NY legislators to turn this tax into law. After all, every champion of this bill stresses that all New Yorkers should purchase reusable bags immediately.
Mayor De Blasio, Speaker Mark-Viverito and the bill’s champions all deny that this bag tax is indeed a tax, citing that the city won’t be claiming one penny of the extra revenue a five cent bag tax will accumulate over time. While they may not immediately claim the bag tax money, just wait until tax time comes around. That extra revenue will certainly be taxed, going into governmental coffers.
It’s very easy for politicians who are financially well off to believe that this bag tax won’t harm people’s wallets in a meaningful way. After all, most, if not all, of them don’t have to worry about where next month’s bill money will come from. They won’t have to count coins, praying that there’s enough to buy a loaf of bread, quart of milk, sack of potatoes or whatever staple food they can hope to last for a few days to a week. I doubt they know or remember what it’s like to sometimes have to choose between a meal and rent. They likely didn’t have to sell off large chunks of their personal possessions just to scrape together a few bucks for sheer survival.
I doubt that they realize the impact of a five-cent per bag tax on plastic and paper bags will have on people who have to stretch every dollar or coin to the breaking point. Most telling is that not one politician in support of this bill has told the general public that five cents is just the minimum charge for this bag tax. A loophole contained within the bill allows stores to charge whatever they please as a bag tax if they wish to do so. What’s to stop an especially greedy store owner from charging as high as $1 per bag? Nothing!
The bill’s champions claim that those people on food stamps, WIC or other forms of public assistance will be exempt from the bag tax. What they also don’t tell you is that this isn’t a total exemption. If these poor people dare to purchase a household necessity that is not covered by food stamps or public assistance, such as detergent or toilet paper, they will be fined 5 cents or more per bag. Not exactly much of an exemption, is it?
Liquor stores are exempt from the bag tax law as are pharmacies. If environmental concerns were truly paramount, then one should wonder just why these stores are exempt, especially since paper and plastic bags are still being used. If financial concerns are taken into account, it sacrifices the large revenues that would be accumulated should a bag tax be applied to these outlets.
As far as the claims that plastic bags are responsible for the largest chunk of waste in New York City, the facts tell a far different story. Plastic and paper bags are responsible for barely 2% of NYC’s overall waste and only 1% of city litter. So a bag tax would not make much of a dent in the waste problems of the city.
What the City Council and Mayor De Blasio won’t tell you either is how this bag tax will hurt the livelihoods of over 1800 working families whose main breadwinner works in plastic bag manufacturing and recycling centers located in New York City. Meanwhile, the reusable bag industry has outsourced the majority of production overseas, so those in the plastic bag industry who will find their salary cut or jobs eliminated won’t have any luck getting a job in the reusable bag industry.
One final kicker in this entire situation is that Mark-Viverito, the primary champion of the bag tax and the person most responsible for pushing its’ passage through the City Council, admittedly doesn’t even use reusable bags! She claims that the passage of the bill will now force her to do so, but I believe her about as much as I believe pigs will start flying in the bright blue sky. I don’t believe any Council members that voted yes will ever use reusable bags instead of plastic. After all, they won’t feel the pinch of five cents or more per bag each shopping trip.
This bag tax is all about one thing: milking more money out of a city filled with people whose wallets have already been wrung dry. These politicians don’t give a damn about the environment, just filling the city coffers come income tax time, when this new “bag tax” becomes taxable revenue. It’s yet another sign that the regular people just don’t matter to those in power.