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Pols fight bag fee with new bill

“Forty cents, 45 cents, 50 cents, 65 cents… and this is without double-bagging,” State Senator Marty Golden exclaimed while counting grocery-filled plastic bags in a shopping cart at a Thursday morning press conference outside Borough Park’s Circus Fruits (5915 Fort Hamilton Parkway).

New York State representatives, including State Senator Diane Savino, Assemblymember Dov Hikind, Assemblymember Peter Abbate and several other reps from Queens and Staten Island, joined State Senator Simcha Felder and Assemblymember Michael Cusick outside the wholesale market on Thursday, May 12, to support a bill they are sponsoring in Albany – aimed at overturning the City Council’s recent passage of a five-cent fee on single-use plastic and paper bags.

The bag buzz started on Thursday, May 5, after the much-debated legislation passed by a 28-20 vote in City Council. Introduced by Councilmembers Brad Lander of Brooklyn and Margaret Chin of Manhattan to encourage the use of reusable bags, the plan is part of a citywide initiative to “significantly reduce consumption of natural resources and waste.”

“The goal of this legislation is to reduce the billions of single-use bags littering our streets, clogging storm drains and polluting our waterways,” said Chin. “By instituting this small fee, we will reach this goal while minimizing the impact on low-income New Yorkers.”

On Tuesday, May 10, after a public hearing was held in regards to the tax, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the bill, noting that “Every year, New Yorkers throw away billions – that is a stunning figure – and that all has a negative effect on our environment.”

Now, Felder and Cusick are seeking to overturn the legislation with a bill that would protect New Yorkers from taxes or fees for the use of “carryout bags.”

“The last thing that New Yorkers need is another regressive tax,” said Felder. “I’ve been disgusted every time I’ve heard the absurd plastic bag tax legislation introduced. It’s about time New York City stops nickel-and-diming New Yorkers. The tax places an undue financial burden on countless low and middle-income New Yorkers who already struggle.”

Other state reps, like Savino, are concerned with the inconsistencies of the law – which only places a tax on certain single-use bags with limited exemptions (the prescription bags from pharmacies are not included, along with produce bags found in grocery stores, takeout bags from restaurants aren’t included, and residents on food stamps will not be charged).

“Environmental policy only works when we all participate towards the effort. That’s why this plan doesn’t,” said Savino. “We support the idea of reducing the use of plastic bags, but it can’t be some bags in some stores for some folks, but not all folks.

“What you’re not seeing is any of our constituents saying, ‘We really need to make sure this law stays in effect,’” she continued. “No one is asking for this because it makes no sense.”

Golden, who represents the 22nd S.D. – which includes Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bensonhurst, Marine Park, Gerritsen Beach, Gravesend and parts of Sheepshead Bay, Borough Park, Manhattan Beach and Midwood – agrees.

“The elected officials that are standing here right now represent almost two million people in this great city,” said Golden. “Think about that. We believe this is the wrong thing to do. There are other ways of doing this. This is an additional burden to our business people, an additional burden to our families and an additional burden to our seniors. It’s just plain wrong.”

Assemblymember Dov Hikind was also “outraged” and said that “The average New Yorker will be set back even further with a five-cent charge for grocery bags.

“There are so many families that struggle to pay for their groceries in and of itself,” he continued, “and forcing New Yorkers to choose between paying a fee and bringing reusable bags every time they go to the supermarket will undoubtedly burden them even more. The role of government is to work for the people, not against them.”

The bill was met by strong opposition from a number of city councilmembers as well, including local Councilmembers Mark Treyger and Vincent Gentile.

“Even at five cents, the fee is without a doubt a regressive tax that will be borne disproportionately by the city’s poor, seniors, blue-collar workers and struggling families,” said Councilmember Vincent Gentile. “Instead of changing consumer behavior, I feel this bill will only increase the constantly surging cost of living in New York City.”

“While the goal to reduce the use of plastic bags is noble, I have serious concerns about the fee approach,” Treyger added on Facebook. “We should allow innovation to reach its potential to solve environmental and economic challenges. Why not invest in new technology to make environmentally friendly bags and have these industries set up a base HERE in NYC! Create good paying jobs while scoring a victory for our environment.”

Felder and Cusick are encouraging residents to sign an online petition (www.nysenate.gov/stopbagtax) against the fee and will hold a public hearing on their bill at 250 Broadway in Manhattan on May 20.

“A charge for plastic and paper bags in the City of New York will not solve this problem,” said Cusick. “Instead, it is a misguided attempt that will only squeeze more money from the hardworking families of our city.”

BROOKLYN MEDIA GROUP/Photo by Anna Spivak
BROOKLYN MEDIA GROUP/Photo by Anna Spivak

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