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Do Bag Laws Make Sense?

When I got married a few years back, I had wanted to stay in Virginia—where taxes were lower—but my wife wanted to live in Maryland, and so we compromised and moved to Maryland. Montgomery County, Maryland, is Democrat country. Lawn signs proliferate but, like elections in Cuba, they are all for a single party. Still, despite the high taxes and looming pension crisis, the school system is good and I figured, how much harm could a county government do? A lot, it seems. With little debate and even less coverage, Montgomery County passed a law to discourage disposable bags by imposing a 5 cent charge for each plastic or paper bag used. The charge applies not only in supermarkets, but in all stores: Home Depot? Bag charge. Bed, Bath, and Beyond? Bag Charge. Barnes and Noble? Bag charge. Take-out Chinese food? Bag charge.

While county officials justify the bag tax in kindergarten environmentalism, this is nonsense. Most bag users do not litter and there are laws with hefty fines on the books for those who do. Stores provide bags because they are convenient and they encourage shopping, and most consumers recycle them at home. I use the plastic bags for trashcan liners and also to clean up after Neocatservative, our feline armchair warrior.

Government has become predatory, and the fees add up. According to an Associated Press report, county officials raised $154,000 in the first month. With the lack of inquisitiveness only reporters can muster, however, no journalist has asked what the price to business has been. While I still go to the local supermarket if I run out of milk or my pregnant wife demands pomegranates, these I can carry out without a bag. For most of our shopping, however, my wife and I now drive to Virginia where groceries and others goods are usually cheaper. We’re not profligate spenders, but l would estimate that we shifted perhaps $200 worth of food and retail shopping from Montgomery Country, Maryland to Virginia in January.

Now, Montgomery County has around 972,000 residents, 24 percent of whom are under 18 years old, leaving 738,720 adults. If each adult took $100 shopping into a neighboring county, that would mean a loss to county businesses of $73,872,000. Now, obviously not every adult is mobile or motivated enough to shift their shopping pattern. But, if the bag tax is enough to send only 1,540 county adults—a mere 0.21 percent of county adults—into Fairfax, Virginia, or a neighboring Maryland county—then it is obvious that local business will lose. For the county, the bag law might make cents, but for businesses and residents, it makes no sense.



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