Long Beach City Council Should Oppose Bag Tax

Michele Steel
Orange County Supervisor (2nd District) and Former California State Board of Equalization Member

It
seems like we can’t turn on the news without hearing about skyrocketing gas
prices, California’s persistent double-digit unemployment rate, and families
struggling to make ends meet.

The
cost of groceries continues to climb everyday as items such as dish soap,
produce, and dairy are marked up because of rising commodity prices.

In
this climate of uncertainty, every nickel counts. Yet efforts to raise taxes
middle and lower income families continue. 
One of them is coming before the Long Beach City Council in just a
matter of days.

At
their meeting on tonight, the Council will vote on a proposal to ban recyclable
plastic grocery bags and impose a ten-cent tax on paper bags at the checkout
stand.  Put simply, a yes vote on this
proposal is a vote to increase taxes that brings with it little promise of
benefit to Long Beach residents, puts hundreds of manufacturing jobs at risk,
and does nothing to strengthen our recycling infrastructure.

This
proposal will disproportionately hurt those families struggling the most to
make ends meet.

This
recession has hit everyone hard. 
Families who used to live comfortably are now living
paycheck-to-paycheck.  Instead of helping
struggling families, under this proposal residents will be double-taxed as they
continue to pay state and local taxes for recycling programs and environmental
conservation, while also being forced to pay 10 cents per bag at the checkout stand.

To
some a dime per bag may not seem like a lot, but those dimes add up and they
will stretch many budgets that are already stretched to the limit.

Don’t
get me wrong, I believe, like many Californians, that we must take steps to
protect and preserve the natural beauty and resources of this state.  But I also believe we must take these steps
thoughtfully and with a full evaluation of the economic and social effect any
new policy will have on Californians. 
This proposal falls short in that regard.

California
already has a recycling program, paid for in part by your tax dollars.  In fact, the state started a recycling
program specifically for plastic bags and other plastic wrapping just a few
years ago, even though a recent study says they represent just .06 percent of
litter on beaches. 

Still
those who are behind this grocery tax on bags are unwilling to let this program
get off the ground before trying to impose more costs on anyone who shops for
food, whether it’s in a grocery store, a corner store, or a farmers’ market.

Not
to mention this new tax won’t do anything to strengthen recycling efforts in
Long Beach. 

This
grocery tax proposal is an attempt at an end-run around the majority of
California voters who last November approved Proposition 26, a measure designed
partly to prevent local governments like the Long Beach City Council from
passing new taxes on residents by disguising them as fees.

In
a legally questionable move to try to circumvent the will of the voters, the
taxes collected on bags in Long Beach under this proposal won’t go toward any
program to help reduce litter, enhance local recycling efforts or even to pay
for the cost of overseeing this new law.

Instead,
the grocers, who once provided bags as a courtesy to their customers, will now
pocket 10 cents for the very bags they used to give away – not a dime will go
to the City or to consumers.  At best,
this plan disregards voters because it violates the spirit of Proposition 26;
at worst, it exposes the City to costly lawsuits because it violates the letter
of Proposition 26.

Today,
the members of the Long Beach City Council have a choice to make.  Either they can vote against higher taxes and
uphold the will of the voters, or they can ignore the will of the people by
casting a vote for increased taxes and less consumer choice.  I urge them to stand with Californians and
oppose this new tax.

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