Pritzker’s plas­tic bag tax is all about green pa­per

Daily Southtown (Sunday) - - OPINION - Austin Berg

Tuan Pham’s fam­ily founded its gro­cery store in Illi­nois 23 years ago. TheHoang-Anh Ori­en­tal Food Store in EastMo­line proudly serves Quad Ci­ties shop­pers, es­pe­cially the Asian Amer­i­can im­mi­grant com­mu­nity.

But Pham is no fan of what he’s hear­ing out of Spring­field.

“I knowChicag­o al­ready has (a plas­tic bag tax),” Pham said. “I think this is a bad idea.”

Pham is onto some­thing. While trum­peted as an en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, the bag tax is an­other money grab. And de­spite good intentions, un­in­tended con­se­quences mean the tax could do more harm than good for the en­vi­ron­ment.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker in­cluded what­would be the na­tion’s first statewide plas­tic bag tax in his Fe­bru­ary bud­get pro­posal. He es­ti­mated a 5-cent-per-bag tax would gen­er­ate around $20 mil­lion. A bill charg­ing a 7 cent­per-bag tax at check­out coun­ters across Illi­nois has al­ready passed out of a Se­nate com­mit­tee and is the sub­ject of fur­ther ne­go­ti­a­tion.

Most of Pham’s cus­tomers are on the Illi­nois side of the Mis­sis­sippi River, but 20 to 30 per­cent come over fromIowa, even though near­byDaven­port has more Asian gro­cers than East Mo­line. That’s one rea­son the bag tax­wor­ries Pham.

“Why pay ex­tra and go fur­ther?” he asked.

Also frus­trat­ing is the fact that while the bag taxwas born in Chicago— the city has im­posed a 7-cent-per-bag tax since Fe­bru­ary 2017— Chicagoans­would be ex­empt fromthe state-level tax un­der two bag tax bills pro­posed so far.

The prob­lem with that ex­emp­tion is the plas­tic bag tax­would raise mil­lions of dol­lars that would flowto the state’s gen­eral rev­enue fund, un­der the bill mov­ing through the Se­nate. So Chicagowou­ld ben­e­fit, but not pay.

In con­trast to Illi­nois, neigh­bor­ing states such as Mis­souri, Iowa, Wis­con­sin, Michi­gan and In­di­ana all have state laws on the books pre­vent­ing lo­cal bag taxes. And ac­cord­ing to data on bag use and pro­duc­tion, those laws could ac­tu­ally be greener than what Pritzker is push­ing.

How? Think about the life of a typ­i­cal plas­tic bag you get from the gro­cery store. Of­ten­times it gets a se­cond or third hur­rah as a garbage bag, and maybe ac­com­pa­nies your dog on awalk.

AU.K. En­vi­ron­ment Agency study in 2011 ex­am­ined the life cy­cle of all kinds of bags, from their pro­duc­tion, to use, to dis­posal. And the find­ingswere sur­pris­ing.

In terms of to­tal en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact, the study found pa­per bags are only bet­ter than plas­tic bags if used four or more times. That’swhy last year, when British su­per­mar­ket chainMor­risons switched from plas­tic bags to pa­per bags for fruit and veg­eta­bles, ex­perts called it a step back­wards for the en­vi­ron­ment. It’s tough to get four uses out of a pa­per bag.

And the num­bers on cot­ton tote bags are even more ex­treme. Reusing a sin­gle plas­tic bag three times has the same en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact as us­ing a cot­ton tote bag 393 times, ac­cord­ing to the U.K. re­port. That’s one trip to the gro­cery story per­week for seven and a half years.

But those push­ing the bag tax in Illi­nois may not care much about the body of re­search on this topic. They’re look­ing out for a dif­fer­ent kind of green. In a scram­ble for new rev­enue and an un­will­ing­ness to take on re­form on the spend­ing side, the state­house has turned to cre­ative ways to nickel-and-dime res­i­dents. A new tax on e-cig­a­rettes, fee hikes for driver’s li­censes and ve­hi­cle reg­is­tra­tion, and even a “Net­flix tax” that charges a 1 per­cent tax “for the priv­i­lege to wit­ness view, or oth­er­wise en­joy” stream­ing en­ter­tain­ment have popped up in Spring­field in the last month.

More than 200 miles south of Pham, be­tween De­catur and Eff­in­g­ham, Daric Peadro learned about the plas­tic bag tax pro­posal from a cus­tomer. He’s the co-owner ofWind­sor Food Cen­ter, which em­ploys 35 peo­ple in Wind­sor, Ill.

“I told him, it’s go­ing to be like Smokey and the Ban­dit,” Peadro joked, “buy­ing cases of bags in In­di­ana to give them tomy cus­tomers. East­bound and down.

“‘Ridicu­lous’ is about the only word I can use to de­scribe it.”

Austin Berg, a writer for the Illi­nois Pol­icy In­sti­tute, wrote this col­umn for the Illi­nois News Net­work.

In con­trast to Illi­nois, neigh­bor­ing states such as Mis­souri, Iowa, Wis­con­sin, Michi­gan and In­di­ana all have state laws on the books pre­vent­ing lo­cal bag taxes. And ac­cord­ing to data on bag use and pro­duc­tion, those laws could ac­tu­ally be greener than what Pritzker is push­ing.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Gov. J. B. Pritzker is propos­ing a tax on plas­tic shop­ping bags.

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