The City Council really doesn’t get it. There’s a reason their new bag tax is so unpopular. It’s not just the nickels, which will add up for many. It’s the chutzpah.
Our form of government is intended to be of the people. No one understands that better than New Yorkers who elect officials to represent their values and needs. The last thing any of us want is a nannyocracy telling us what’s good for us, what to believe and how to behave.
On Friday, I chaired a Public Hearing on the bag tax, which allowed my colleagues and me to bring in expert witnesses from every vantage point — manufacturing, the environment, sanitation, the city’s impoverished. We listened as detailed testimony made it clear that New Yorkers are being bamboozled by the City’s bag tax. The Council member who championed the tax (which he insisted on calling a “fee”) was invited to address us and wasn’t ashamed to admit that the true intention of the tax is not to do something constructive — rather, it’s to irritate people into changing their behavior; to force people to support a cause that he and the liberal progressives who agree with him feel is important. “We know what’s best for you,” says the Council, “so we will punish you until you comply.”
But this isn’t an attack on Big Sodas, which many people don’t drink anyway. This attack is on something everyone uses regularly.
What I already understood, and what was made even further evident at the hearing Friday, was that these people, if they could, would force us to stop using plastic bags entirely. Not just carry-out bags but anything they don’t like: plastic cups, plastic spoons, even disposable diapers. Let everyone go back to using diaper services. But that’s not feasible (today), so they picked the one thing they thought could get away with.
If the environment is really the issue, I suggested, then enforce recycling laws, which are already on the books. Recycling of plastic bags is already common, as experts testified at our hearing. Steve Stein of Environmental Resources Planning noted that a bag tax would have little, if any, additional impact on the environment. As Abraham Lincoln might have said, charging some of the people for some of the bags some of the time only fools the fools.
Moreover, plastic bags are further recycled by the many uses they receive from average New Yorkers. I know I use mine. And when people are done with their bags, there are receptacles available for recycling.
So it’s clear: At the end of the day, recycling is not the issue. The arguments presented at our hearing from those pushing the tax quickly digressed into diatribes on climate change and wildlife concerns. “The trees in New York are filled with plastic bags,” they said. These were people with multiple agendas, but they weren’t speaking for common New Yorkers. Then I listened as testimony from those representing lower-income neighborhoods made it clear that they don’t want government intruding into their lives. There are people who are genuinely strapped. To these New Yorkers, a nickel is a nickel. They don’t want to waste money.
As for plastic bags hanging from trees, my colleague Assemblyman Dov Hikind noted that he’s up and down Ocean Parkway every day and doesn’t see them. So I went out and looked, too. If they were ever there, someone must have taken them down. Maybe the people seeing bags in trees are walking on their hands.
The people who pushed this bill want to pretend that this is a holy mission. It’s not. It’s just an aggressive, progressive liberal agenda. That’s why it’s so important to stop it.
Our City tries again and again to force people to do something that a small group demands is important. Their tactic: Drive people crazy until they give in. Today it’s a nickel a bag, tomorrow it’s something else. Yes, the ultimate goal is to irritate us.
The public is encouraged to fight the tax by signing the petition at https://www.nysenate.gov/stopbagtax.