Could a Bag Tax Go Statewide in Maryland?
Some state and county officials say yes. What do you think of paying for grocery bags?
Prince George’s and Howard counties are among the jurisdictions statewide that are exploring following in Montgomery County's footsteps and imposing a tax on plastic bags used at retail establishments. However, Baltimore County is one region that does not appear to be going along.
In Maryland, most counties need state legislative approval to pass a tax; Baltimore city and county, and Montgomery County are the only jurisdictions that don't need legislative approval, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamentez has “no interest in pursuing a bag tax,” said county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler.
Carroll County commissioners also said the bag tax wouldn’t come to fruition in their area.
“Any new tax or tax hike is wrong in this economic climate,” said commissioner Haven Shoemaker. “When did it become government's job to determine what type of shopping bags people should use? In my opinion, that would be the nanny state run amok.”
Similarly, commissioner Robin Frazier said it should be up to the free market to adjust consumer behavior.
“When citizens and businesses decide that plastic bags are worse for the environment than they are useful and affordable, they will stop using them and the market will adjust,” she said.
State officials say they expect a movement to continue to make the bag tax mandatory statewide, following the momentum created by Montgomery County, the first jurisdiction in the state to implement a bag tax, which went into effect Jan. 1.
“I think there will be a continued strong push for statewide action,” said Del. Alfred Carr, D-Montgomery. “I think there’s a growing awareness among the public and legislators. … People realize the extent to which these plastic bags are ending up as litter and fouling the waterways.”
It is estimated the five cents people pay to use plastic bags in Montgomery County will generate $1.5 million in revenue for the first year--money officials said would be used for water quality programs.
Carr said that for the past three years he has been the lead sponsor of a statewide bag fee bill, which he said has stalled in committee each year.
A March Washington Post editorial blamed the bill’s 2010 failing on “election-year jitters” among lawmakers hesitant to approve a new tax.
Carr said he likely won’t be the lead sponsor on a similar bill this year since the measure passed in Montgomery, his district, but he said several groups were pushing for the measure.
Those include the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, which has made a plastic bag tax as one of its top priorities for the 2012 legislative session. Its proposal also includes using the revenue for water quality improvement efforts.
The idea of taxes on grocery bags also has its opponents.
The site also says that reusable bags could breed bacterial contamination, if not regularly cleaned with soap and water, a claim backed by Charles Gerba, a professor at the University of Arizona.
Gerba’s study, published recently in the International Association for Food Protection's Food Protection Trends magazine, found that intestinal bacteria like E. coli flourish in unwashed reusable bags.
There has also been some consumer backlash.
One Calverton resident told Patch recently: “I don’t feel that we should have to pay for bags for our groceries or anything else,” she said. “That should be something that we all should get free."
Montgomery’s bag tax follows the bag tax enacted in Washington, D.C., which is in effect for businesses that sell food or alcohol, according to The Washington Post.
In Howard County, County Executive Ken Ulman has asked environmental protection staff members to research the concept of a bag tax and offer him options to consider, according to county spokesman Kevin Enright.
Prince George’s County officials are actively pursuing the tax. State Sen. Paul Pinskey and Del. Barbara Frush, both Democrats from Prince George’s, have said they plan to seek legislative approval to allow county officials to levy the tax.