Prince Ge­orge’s bag tax col­lects needed sup­port

Re­vived bill gets county del­e­ga­tion OK

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro - BY DAVID HILL

AN­NAPO­LIS | A bill to im­ple­ment a 5-cent bag tax in Prince Ge­orge’s County is alive and mov­ing along af­ter lan­guish­ing for nearly a month in a Gen­eral Assem­bly com­mit­tee.

The leg­is­la­tion is now in a House com­mit­tee af­ter be­ing ap­proved last week by the county’s 23-mem­ber House del­e­ga­tion, which sup­port­ers say was its big­gest po­ten­tial road­block. The vote was 12-9, with two mem­bers ab­sent.

The Gen­eral Assem­bly gen­er­ally de­fers to coun­ties on lo­cal bills and passes the leg­is­la­tion, un­less glar­ing con­cerns arise.

“I think it’s passed the big­gest hur­dle,” said Del­e­gate Justin D. Ross, Prince Ge­orge’s Demo­crat. “This is about en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice. It’s about kids not hav­ing to walk by trash on the way to school.”

The vote came as a mi­nor sur­prise, con­sid­er­ing the bill ap­peared to be fac­ing long odds af­ter an un­fa­vor­able re­port by the del­e­ga­tion’s six-mem­ber County Af­fairs Com­mit­tee. Mem­bers voted on the bill three times last month, each time fall­ing short of the four votes needed for a fa­vor­able re­view.

If passed by the House and Se­nate, the bill would al­low the county to charge shop­pers 5 cents for each dis­pos­able plas­tic or pa­per bag they re­ceive at gro­cery and some re­tail stores. The pro­posal must pass the assem­bly be­cause Prince Ge­orge’s law re­quires state ap­proval for ev­ery new lo­cal tax.

It would make Prince Ge­orge’s the sec­ond county in Mary­land to in­sti­tute a bag tax, fol­low­ing Mont­gomery County which en­acted its 5-cent tax in Jan­uary.

Prince Ge­orge’s pro­posed bag tax has re­ceived strong sup­port from County Ex­ec­u­tive Rush­ern L. Baker III, a Demo­crat, and the County Coun­cil, which has down­played the rev­enue as­pect and ar­gued that it will curb lit­ter­ing and pol­lu­tion along streets and in wa­ter­ways.

“Although we have to give a lit­tle bit, we’re go­ing to get a lot more out of it,” Col­lege Park res­i­dent Mary Cook said. “Peo­ple have a choice — they can ei­ther take their [re­us­able] bags or not take their bags.”

How­ever, the county’s all-demo­cratic state del­e­ga­tion has been di­vided on the is­sue.

The Prince Ge­orge’s Se­nate del­e­ga­tion passed a bag-tax pro­posal last year that cleared the cham­ber in the final weeks of the assem­bly ses­sion, only to see it die in a House com­mit­tee be­cause of what Mr. Ross de­scribed as time con­straints in the clos­ing days.

Op­po­nents of the tax say it will cre­ate an ex­tra eco­nomic bur­den on res­i­dents and dis­pro­por­tion­ately hit low-in­come fam­i­lies who aren’t in the habit of us­ing fab­ric, re­us­able bags.

“Clearly, a prob­lem has been iden­ti­fied,” Del­e­gate Melony G. Grif­fith, Prince Ge­orge’s Demo­crat, said re­cently. “Mem­bers are just strug­gling with whether a bag tax is the so­lu­tion.”

If the bill passes, it would al­low the County Coun­cil to of­fi­cially en­act the tax and de­ter­mine where rev­enues would go. There likely will be a push to ded­i­cate all or most of the money to en­vi­ron­ment causes, as is the case in Mont­gomery County and the Dis­trict.

The Dis­trict, which passed its 5-cent bag tax in 2010, es­ti­mated last year that the tax gen­er­ated $2.6 mil­lion in its first 16 months for en­vi­ron­men­tal causes and ed­u­ca­tion. They say 75 per­cent of res­i­dents polled say they now use fewer dis­pos­able bags be­cause of the law.

Mont­gomery of­fi­cials say their bag tax gen­er­ated $154,000 in its first month, with the money slated to go to lit­ter cleanup and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­grams.

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