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Bag Law Backlash Hits Montco

I’ve written twice before about the bag tax in Montgomery County, Maryland. In short, the county government overwhelming implemented a 5-cent tax on both paper and plastic bags, not only at supermarkets but also for take-out from restaurants and any retail. The purpose, local politicians said, was to reduce plastic bag litter in local waterways.

Living in Montgomery County, but only a short drive away from Virginia, I take most of my major shopping to Virginia nowadays—I figure that over the last 18 months, that’s come out to a couple thousand dollars I’d otherwise have spent locally. Not only do I resent the nickel-and-diming and paternalism—fine litterers, not those who haven’t littered—but I also use the plastic bags for any number of things: disposing of my daughter’s dirty diapers and Neocatservative’s dirty litter; preventing thawing chicken or fish from leaking in the refrigerator, and other random tasks.

Now, it seems, some Montgomery County politicians are waking up to the fact that such taxes breed resentment.

The county has never established metrics to track whether the bag tax has led to fewer bags in waterways, and has never explained why paper should also be excluded. Nor have the bag tax advocates—those who pretend it’s about the environment and not county coffers—explained why retailers’ bags should be excluded when they seldom if ever find themselves in streams: I’ve never seen a heavy Bed, Bath, and Beyond or Macy’s bag floating in the wind. Now some of the same councilmen who voted in favor of the tax want to start moderating it by, for example, excluding restaurants and retailers.

According to a local news site:

Berliner, a co-sponsor of the bill, said while he still supports the goal of the original bag tax, enacted on Jan. 1, 2012, he thinks requiring people to carry reuseable bags into a hardware store or a Nordstroms to avoid the five-cent fee only breeds resentment. “One small retailer in downtown Bethesda said, ‘We have a number of customers who get angry with us because of a law Montgomery County has imposed on us,’” testified Ginanne Italiano, President of the Greater Bethesda-Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce. “‘They leave very frustrated, not because of the five cents, but because of a law that makes us charge five cents for a paper bag when it’s the plastic bags that are causing the pollution.’”

Note to politicians: Whether red light cameras programmed to ticket stopped cars, fining farmers for selling raw milk to out-of-state visitors, or overreaching bag laws, no one likes predatory government.



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