By Bob Friedrich
The disciples of social engineering and behavior modification were at it again last week in the City Council with passage of the 5-cent plastic bag fee. With the mayor’s blessing, the New York City Council decided to add a few hundred dollars to every family’s annual shopping bill. All done in the name of the “environment,” a pretext to justify imposing new taxes and fees on already tapped-out New Yorkers.
This bill will surely shake out whatever loose change remains in your pocket after the speed cameras and (possibility of) bridge tolls on the free East River crossings have gotten you. It’s just the latest assault on the wallets of everyday New Yorkers and, truth be told, the plastic bag fee also applies to non-polluting, bio-degradable paper bags, making it obvious that the bill is more about social engineering than reducing pollution. Using the environment as an excuse to pluck every last dollar out of our pockets and squeeze the family budget is deceptive and unfair. Want to change our habits, try education or a 5-cent credit for using a reusable bag.
The arrogance of Council member Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn), the bill’s chief sponsor, is stunning, when he says, “It works by irritating people into bringing reusable bags, so we understand it’s irritating.” Personally, I find it insulting for a Council member to knowingly pass a bill with the intention to irritate me into modifying my behavior, as if I am a child unable to make thoughtful decisions on my own. The City Council must stop using us as guinea pigs in their social engineering experiments.
This bill also engenders a new class warfare. SNAP (food stamp) card users are exempt and may use as many bags as they wish cost-free, while taxpayers who pay for those SNAP cards are taxed for each plastic or paper bag they use. Two individuals on the same grocery line: one receives the bags free while the other must pay. Is this the Tale of Two Cities De Blasio had in mind? It is surely an acknowledgment that there is a financial burden associated with this bill. Supporters may believe the bill is “eco-friendly,” but it is eco-nomically unfriendly.
Eastern Queens Councilmen Donovan Richards, I. Daneek Miller, Peter Koo and Paul Vallone could have made a huge difference had they voted to oppose the bag-tax bill. Instead, they chose to impose this cost burden on the seniors and working-class families of their district. Their constituents, many on fixed incomes, can thank them for adding 10 cents to the cost of water and other heavy items requiring a double bag and hundreds of dollars to their annual food bill. These families struggle daily to pay rent and make ends meet, the last thing they need is to pay for something that used to be free at the local grocery counter.
Bucking the trend was newly elected Queens Councilman Barry Grodenchik, who called it “one of the most regressive pieces of legislation to ever come before this council.” He knows that many folks in transit-starved eastern Queens drive to the supermarket and load up grocery bags, some double-bagged, into their cars. It’s simply impractical for them to carry enough reusable bags.
Most of us resourcefully reuse grocery store bags and keep them stashed in plastic bag receptacles until they’re needed again — as wastebasket liners, trash bags or for dog pickup. They are not “single-use bags,” as proponents of the bill claim. Pushing individuals to use reusable bags creates another type of environmental hazard. These reusable bags are often petroleum or lead based and require regular cleaning to eliminate food-borne toxins. Are we simply trading one set of problems for another?
The ideological crusade to micromanage the minutia of plastic- and paper-bag consumption is another example of the city’s misplaced priorities. Our city is the most heavily taxed in the nation, nickel-and-diming its residents for everything. The City Council works overtime to create regulations and petty annoyances in our daily lives while the serious work of ethics reform, cost containment and infrastructure repair is ignored. As I wrote in a similar column back in 2014, the fix is in the bag.
Bob Friedrich is President of Glen Oaks Village, a Civic Leader and former candidate for the New York City Council.