Colorado Democrats’ Continuing Obsession with Shopping Bag Taxes
By Dustin Hurst | Colorado Watchdog
The behavior-changers are coming forthe Mile High City and they have everyday shoppers in their sights.
At a Denver City Councilsubcommittee meeting Tuesday, Councilor Deborah Ortega introduced a measure that would add a 5-cent fee – in layman’s terms, a tax – to apply plastic or paper bags used at grocers of more than 1,500 square feet in city limits.
The city council will consider the idea over the next few weeks, with a final decision expected in the middle of September. If the council approves the measure, it would go take effect on April 22, 2012 – Earth Day.
The ordinance would split the tax revenue, giving 2 cents to grocers to cover the cost of program administration and the city would keep the rest.
Ortega says the measure would cut down on the number of plastic and paper bags entering Colorado’s water stream and improve sustainability. Opponents, speaking out at a Tuesday council subcommittee meeting, said the ban is a misguided and a violation of the state Constitution.
“If you look at it, it’s clearly a tax and not a fee,” said Wendy Warner of the 5-cent tax on bags. The Colorado Constitution clearly prohibits government entities from raising taxes without a vote of the people. The city of Aspen was sued for its 20-cent-per-bag with, with plaintiffs arguing that the measure should have gone to voters for approval.
Mary Lou Chatman with the Rocky Mountain Food Industry said Ortega’s proposal is unfair to local grocers. “We would like all bags and all stores treated the same,” she said, noting that the tax only applies to grocers and not other stores.
Mark Daniels of the American Progressive Bag Alliance, an interest group representing bag manufacturers, told Colorado Watchdog that the ban is unwise and could end up hurting families.
“This kind of feel-good legislation might sound like the right idea, but upon closer examination, science validates that taxes like this push consumers to less sustainable alternatives that are more harmful to the environment,” Daniels wrote in an email.
“Furthermore, a five-cent tax on grocery bags will increase costs on consumers when working families and lower-income residents already have difficulty making ends meet.”
If the council approves the measure, the city would reap new revenue to spend on programs cleaning up the city, re-educating residents and buying reusable bags for shoppers.
The Independence Institute’s Mike Krause wrote earlier this month the spending play is partially just another way for officials to give handouts.
“In other words, among many other things, the city will be using the money paid by people using disposable bags to give away reusable bags to people who aren’t paying the cost; a redistributive give-a-way program on (literally) someone else’s nickel,” Krause wrote.
While reusable bags are seen as the healthy alternative for Mother Nature, humans might be a different thing entirely. Research suggests that as many as 97 percent of shoppers don’t wash their reusable bags, which leaves bacteria in them.
A May 2012 Los Angeles Times article suggests just how dangerous the reusable bags can be:
A reusable grocery bag left in a hotel bathroom caused an outbreak of norovirus-induced diarrhea and nausea that struck nine of 13 members of a girls’ soccer team in October, Oregon researchers reported Wednesday.
Store owners in cities with plastic bag bans or prohibitive taxes say they’ve seen an increase in shoplifting as more patrons use the reusable bags. One Seattle grocer said, for example, he’s lost thousands of dollars in produce and frozen foods.
Denver is hardly the first Colorado city to eye such an ordinance. Earlier this month,Durango, a small town in southwestern Colorado, adopted a nearly identical measure.
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