Governor kills city’s controversial grocery store bag tax, and Queens lawmakers are delighted

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Two Queens elected officials praised Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday for signing a bill that nullifies city legislation to impose a fee on customers using paper or plastic grocery bags.

The legislation, which the City Council passed last May and was signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio thereafter, would have charged customers 5 cents per grocery bag used at the checkout counter. The fee aimed to discourage the use of paper or plastic bags while encouraging customers to haul their groceries with reusable bags, thereby cutting the amount of paper and plastic in the city’s waste stream.

Critics of the legislation, including Councilman Barry Grodenchik, argued that the fee amounted to a tax that would hurt, in particular, those New Yorkers living on limited income.

In a statement on Tuesday, Cuomo said that the city’s legislation was “deeply flawed” because it allowed for merchants to pocket all revenue collected from the grocery bag fee. He suggested that the city should require that the revenue from the tax be used toward environmental cleanup efforts.

“There are two possible rationales for New York City’s bill providing the fee to profit the merchants: political expediency or legal impossibility,” Cuomo said. “In either case, the windfall profit to private entities is unjustifiable and unnecessary.”

Grodenchik lamented “that the state government had to get involved,” but said Cuomo’s action was “necessary” to defeat “a regressive tax that would unfairly fall on the shoulders of working families and seniors.”

“I will continue to fight to permanently block this tax,” Grodenchik said. “Surely there are better ways of achieving our shared goal of responsible environmental stewardship.”

State Senator Joe Addabbo agreed with Grodenchik in believing “that there are far better ways to address the plastic bag issue than charging customers 5 cents to the benefit of the grocery stores.”

“The people have spoken out in opposition to the plastic bag fee, and their state government heard them loud and clear,” Addabbo said.

Cuomo said he would work with the state Legislature to establish “a statewide task force to develop a uniform state plan for addressing the plastic bag problem,” adding that local governments would be included; the task force “will conclude with a report and proposed legislation” before the end of 2017, he added.

One proponent of the grocery bag fee, the New York League of Conservation Voters, indicated that it would hold Cuomo to his promise of statewide action to reduce the amount of plastic and paper bags in the trash stream.

“Though we appreciate his obvious concern for the issue, there is now a law on the books that overturns the principle of home rule and leaves us with no near-term solution to the very real problem of plastic bag waste,” said NYCLV President Marcia Bystryn. “We sincerely hope that the City Council’s bold actions to reduce New York City’s waste stream do not end in vain.”

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