Montgomery County Council Passes Bag Tax

On Tuesday, the Montgomery County Council approved a five-cent tax on all paper and plastic bags distributed by grocery and retail establishments countywide.  The tax, which will not be applied on paper bags provided at restaurants and pharmacies, is expected to raise $1 million annually in revenue which will be used to distribute free reusable bags to the elderly and poor, as well as fund the cleanup of waterways.  The Washington Post reports:

“I consider this to be a nudge, not a nuisance. This nudge has profound effects on our consciousness,” said council member Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac), who cast one of the eight votes for the measure.

Nancy Floreen (D-At Large), the lone dissenter, called the tax a costly distraction when officials should be focused on maintaining basic services in a tough budget climate. “It’s just another regressive tax that creates its own set of administrative costs.. . . We are adding to the cost borne by our most vulnerable populations,” Floreen said.

Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said he first thought of the idea several years ago but waited for action on the state level. When he concluded that those efforts were stuck, he proposed the local tax in March.

“Once they’ve seen that it is in place, once they’ve seen it working, then it may become a basis for a more positive action” in the General Assembly, Leggett said.

That view was shared by Sen. Jamie B. Raskin, who, along with Del. Alfred C. Carr Jr., a fellow Montgomery Democrat, pushed statewide bag tax proposals.

“A lot of state laws get passed when we prove that something works at the local level,” Raskin said, adding that momentum fell apart under industry pressure in Annapolis.

The tax will go into effect January 1, 2012.

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