Gov Jerry Brown will soon sign California’s ban on single use plastic grocery bags.  Nothing better represents the de-industrialization of this state; the aversion of California’s elites to the manufacture of products they don’t like even if they are a convenience provided free to consumers.  This legislation should be referred because we need a debate on whether Brown and the legislature are further impoverishing California.

Plastic bags are now among the Great Satans hated by the environmentalist elite along with oil, coal, dams, power plants and assorted other evils.  The evil of the plastic bag: it doesn’t biodegrade and clogs landfills.  The plastic bag industry counters that their bags, a convenience reused by consumers, accounts of only 0.4 percent of landfill space, and do not emit greenhouse gases (another environmentalist Great Satan).

But the bag haters had a hard time getting this legislation through, especially since the bag makers provide jobs for several thousand works, most low income Latinos in Los Angeles.  So they bought off the grocery industry by allowing them to charge 10 cents for the alternative brown paper bags.  As to the out of job workers, the bag bill provides a paltry $2 million in loans to businesses to transition to reusable bags that the elites approve of.

“The most simple elegant solution to avoid paying a 10-cent fee at a grocery store would be to bring a reusable bag., and that is the ultimate objective of this bill,” said Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Los Angeles), author of the bag legislation.  At least he is honest; this is about the government changing behavior that it does not approve of.

But what if you don’t have a reusable bag handy; what if you go the store by bus after work; guess you are expected to carry your reusable bag with you to work all day.  What about the harried single mom who forgot her reusable bag before rushing from her job to pick up the kids from daycare, and now has to shop for their dinner?  Guess she will just happily pay the 10 cents for every paper bag she uses that was demanded by the grocers to let the bill pass.

So we need a public debate on this bill, and the way to get that is the refer it.  But it probably won’t be referred, though, for two reasons.

It would be a great issue for Republicans to actually put themselves on the side of consumers, but the party is broke and cannot even support its candidates this fall.  Of course, were the bag bill referred, it would appear on the November 2016 presidential ballot, just when Hillary Clinton is on her way to her coronation.  It could help the Republican candidate in 2016 if she were forced to explain why this new tax on middle class moms is such a good idea.

Business, especially California’s manufacturing companies, could lead the way since this is a direct assault on the dwindling manufacturing base in California.  But business has proven entirely tactical in their approach to politics: there is little long term strategic thinking.  They will pour millions into political campaigns in 2014, most of which they will probably lose as they did in 2012.  Diverting some of that money for a longer term referendum strategy would make sense, but don’t count on it.

Perhaps the plastic bag industry will step up; if they did refer the bill it would be suspended for two years until the voters could vote on it in November 2016.  That would save thousands of jobs for two more years.

There is another reason to refer this bill; people understand the small things.  Republicans and the business community are generally on the losing side of public policy debates in California because they don’t present their policies in ways that regular folks see a benefit.  Decades ago an obscure Assemblywoman named March Fong demanded an end to 10 cent (there’s that dime again) pay toilets.  Her crusade led to her election to statewide office four times.  People will understand when government makes them pay 10 cents for a free paper bag.  In fact, how easy it would be to get the necessary referendum signatures by just standing outside grocery stores and asking people if they want to pay for their free bags.

Once Brown signs the bill, a 90-day window opens for a referendum proponent to gather 504,760 valid petition signatures.  It will be interesting to see if anyone cares enough to do so.