Porn, Pot, and -- Plastic? Will Massive Deficit Kill or Enable Statewide Bag Fee?

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When state lawmakers earnestly attempt to begin making up a deficit by proposing additional taxes or fees on booze, illegal drugs and pornography, it may well be time to invest in canned foods, guard dogs, and that "So, You're Building Your Own Compound" video series from Time-Life films.

Tucked away in today's Chronicle article on seemingly outrageous methods of bridging an epic financial shortfall was a quick mention of an Assembly bill that would impose a 25-cent fee on plastic grocery bags. This, unfortunately, is not accurate -- both AB 87 (which was mentioned) and AB 68 (which was not) would impose fees on all bags: paper, plastic, or biodegradable plastic. This is not a trifling difference -- one could employ Mark Twain's homily about lightning and a lightning bug. A fee on solely plastic bags would cause a de-facto shunting to paper ones -- costing retailers more money and exacerbating the bounty of environmental problems associated with paper manufacturing, distribution, and disposal. This was SF Weekly's major critique of San Francisco's simplistic plastic bag ban.  

In keeping with the environmentally friendly goal of the legislation, both bills are recycled from proposals made by Assemblymembers Mike Davis and Julia Brownley (both SoCal Democrats) last year -- which, in turn, derived from bag fee proposals made in previous years. Yet while the bag fees are being lumped in with some real revenue generating Hail Marys, allow us to cast aside impartiality to say that either bill would be a spectacular idea. Bag fees have worked in both corporate (see: IKEA) and national (see: Ireland) settings, and are the only bag reduction measure that has ever come close to attaining its goal.

The major question remains: Will charging consumers for an object currently handed out for free fly in a recession economy? Not surprisingly, the Assemblymembers are optimistic.

"If consumers switch to reusable bags, everyone saves money: Grocers won't pay for bags and consumers won't have to pay for the $300 million the state spends to clean up plastic bags," said Brownley's press secretary, Linda Rapattoni.

Far-sighted practicality? Now?

"If someone says it's an imposition for consumers to pay a 25 cent fee to curtail the squandering of their public works and public service dollars -- it's clear we ought to evaluate the costs on both ends," adds Davis. "I have concluded -- and I know the citizens also will -- that it will be cheaper to better manage this problem of plastic bags the way we've done it," via a fee.

Altruism? Now?

We'll be keeping an eye on these bills' progress upstream in the legislative process. Good luck -- you'll need it.

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