With just about a month to go before the city’s controversial bag fee is scheduled to go into effect, a group of elected officials, including a bevy of Brooklyn pols, is hoping to pass legislation on the state level that would permanently derail the fee, which proponents contend would reduce the waste stream but which opponents claim is just a hidden tax.
Brooklyn State Senators Simcha Felder and Marty Golden and Assemblymembers Peter Abbate and Nicole Malliotakis were among a bipartisan group of legislators who gathered on Sunday, January 15 on the steps of City Hall to announce the legislation, of which Felder is a prime sponsor, that would stop the city from implementing the fee, due to be charged beginning February 15.
“New Yorkers are tired of being nickel and dimed,” asserted Felder, who demanded, “Why are we picking on the most vulnerable New Yorkers to drive them out of their minds, and tax them over and over again?
“Please, Mayor de Blasio, please do not irritate New Yorkers further,” Felder added, contending that city elected officials, “still have time to come up with something that works for all New Yorkers.”
The fee was initially slated to go into effect in October, 2016; however, the City Council delayed the implementation.
On Tuesday, January 17, the State Senate passed the new legislation – which forbids “any tax, fee, or local charge on carry-out merchandise bags in cities having a population of one million or more” — though a vote has not yet been scheduled in the Assembly, which also must pass the legislation before it is sent to the governor for his signature.
However, Abbate said on Wednesday evening that the city’s delegation in the Assembly had met on the issue and would be “asking for a one-year moratorium so we can work on a bill” that would be less controversial. A key sticking point in the City Council’s legislation, said Abbate, is the fact that store owners would get to keep the bag fee, rather than it going to helping to reduce the proliferation of plastic bags.
Opponents of the bag fee didn’t have the plaza in front of City Hall to themselves. Also present was Brooklyn Councilmember Brad Lander, with a group of protesters who were on hand to support the implementation of the bag fee. “They don’t want to do anything about reducing plastic bag waste,” Lander said.
“With Trump and the GOP Congress rolling back environmental protections and bullying cities, it would be shameful for Albany to join them,” he added. “Don’t they have more important work to do on behalf of the people of New York?”
The purpose of the fee is to encourage the use of reusable bags, and decrease the amount of disposable shopping bags that end up in the waste stream or as litter. According to World Watch Institute, Americans throw away approximately 100 billion plastic grocery bags annually. New Yorkers dispose of more than 9.37 billion plastic bags every year.
The New York City Department of Sanitation has begun notifying businesses that they are required to charge a nickel for every bag starting February 15 or face fines.
Helen Klein contributed reporting to this article.