A County Council public hearing on a bill that would roll back Montgomery County's bag tax is set for Tuesday night.
It's expected to pit environmentalists against some of the very lawmakers who pushed for the five-cent fee for all plastic and paper bags that went into effect on Jan. 1, 2012.
Now, County Councilmembers Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Chevy Chase), Nancy Floreen (D-At large) and Craig Rice (D-Upcounty) want to limit the tax to grocery stores and other retailers (such as Target) where food makes up more than 2 percent of gross sales by dollar value. The bill would also repeal the tax on plastic food take-out bags.
Berliner, Floreen and Rice said it's not reasonable to expect people to bring reuseable bags to Home Depot, Nordstrom's or boutique shops in a mall. Montgomery collected more than double the amount of revenue analysts expected from the bag tax in 2012.
"I have always been concerned that if you overreach in trying to achieve a noble end, you turn a law of good intentions into a law that breeds resentment. The shift in consciousness that you achieve is not one that promotes protecting the environment, but rather one that diminishes support for doing so," Berliner said in April. "We can not afford to squander good will on marginal outcomes. There is no doubt in my mind that government will need to play a strong role – and in many cases a leading role — if we are to continue making strides toward protecting our planet. I want to save our political chits for the tough fights ahead – and when we get there, I want to have earned the community’s trust that we will not squander their progressive capital."
In a March Council Committee hearing, Berliner questioned how effective the tax has been at changing people’s shopping behaviors. He also asked why the county wouldn’t outright ban plastic bags, as has been done in some jurisdictions, if plastic bags are such a problem.
Bob Hoyt, director of Montgomery’s Department of Environmental Protection, vigorously defended the tax in that hearing and said repealing parts of it now could hurt the progress being made around county streams and creeks, where clean-up groups have reported significantly fewer plastic bags.
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Flickr photo by Mr. T in DCShould Montgomery County's Bag Tax Include Stores That Don't Sell Food?