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Source: WGRZ Buffalo

Plastic-bag tax? Lawmakers push back

BY JON CAMPBELL
GANNETT ALBANY BUREAU , WGRZ

Posted: June 10, 2016
Originally Published: June 8, 2016

ALBANY - A battle over a 5-cent fee on plastic and paper bags in New York City could end with all cities being blocked from imposing similar taxes.

Angered by the New York City tax approved in May, the state Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would prevent the 5-cent fee from taking effect.

The bill, however, goes further than New York City: It would block any city -- from Buffalo to Rochester to Binghamton to White Plains -- from implementing a tax on grocery bags.

Now, state Assembly leaders are weighing whether to put the bill to a vote, though the tax's recent delay could push the issue to next year. And environmental lobbyists are working the halls of the Capitol, hoping to run out the clock on the Legislature's annual session, which is scheduled to end June 16.

"This isn't about nickels, it's about getting rid of the damn bags," said William Cooke, director of government relations for Citizens Campaign for the Environment. "For the Legislature to tell cities they don't have the right is ridiculous."

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Simcha Felder, D-Brooklyn, would block all cities from imposing "any tax, fee or any other local charge on any carry out merchandise bag."

The Senate passed the measure 36-22 after an 85-minute debate and vote, with supporters saying New York City's tax was ill-conceived.

"It’s about time to respect New Yorkers," Felder said. "It’s about time to respect our constituents who doesn’t want to be driven crazy and nickel and dimed every day."

Others said the issue should be left to local governments to decide. The city tax is aimed at reducing waste and the amount of plastic bags found in city streets.

Sen. George Latimer, D-Rye, said it would set a bad precedent for the state Legislature to overturn the city's decision.

"This is a debate in the New York City Council," Latimer said. "My job is to deal with those issues that are at the state level in scope."

Speaking to reporters Monday, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, said the chamber's Democratic majority "has some issues" with the New York City tax, including the language in the city law.

By Tuesday, Heastie and New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito reached an agreement to push off the city tax until February. It had been slated to take effect in October.

With state lawmakers scheduled to end their legislative session next week, the delay of the bag tax in the city means the issue could linger in Albany until 2017.

"Everyone acknowledges that plastic bags are a concern, so after conversations between Speaker Heastie and Speaker Mark-Viverito the effective date of the city legislation has been pushed back to February 15 of next year so we can work together on a solution," Heastie spokesman Michael Whyland said.