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Source: Queens Chronicle

Baggage claim: City, Albany fight over fee

Senate, Assembly seek to delay a 5 surcharge on paper and plastic


Posted: February 10, 2017
Originally Published: February 9, 2017

In a 36-hour period beginning last Friday, the state Senate and Assembly agreed on bills that would delay implementation of the 5-cent New York City grocery bag fee until at least next January; with green groups and politicians countering at a rally on the steps of City Hall slamming Albany’s actions on both environmental and home-rule grounds.

And where it stops before Feb. 15, perhaps only Gov. Cuomo knows.

The new companion bills are S.4158, whose co-sponsors include Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside); and A.4883, with four co-sponsors from Queens, including Vivian Cook (D-Jamaica), Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven), Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing) and David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows).

If there is agreement in Albany on a final measure, the City Council would have to pass a new surcharge bill after the start of a new session in January 2018, as the Council elections in November will usher in some new members and new leadership with Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan, Bronx) leaving office because of term limits.

The law, signed by Mayor de Blasio last July, was originally supposed to go into effect last October, but the city decided to put it off until this month in an effort to find some common ground with the state.

It is not known whether Cuomo will sign the nullification into law.

“As of now we are examining the bills,” a Cuomo spokeswoman told the Chronicle on Monday morning.

Marcia Bystryn, president of the New York League of Conservation Voters, slammed the legislative proposal within an hour of its being reported Friday evening.

She was not letting up on Sunday morning, calling on Cuomo to keep his veto pen at the ready at the City Hall rally.

“Albany is aiming for yet another delay, this time until after a new City Council is seated in 2018,” she said in a statement issued by the NYLCV. “The Legislature’s new bill prevents this Council from amending or reauthorizing their own law, clearly hoping that the next Council will not have the political will to stand up to Albany’s bullying.”

She said the move is bad for the environment and the city’s budget, citing the estimated $12 million per year needed to truck up to 10 billion bags to landfills, as well as those littering streets.

She also said it singles out New York City. Suffolk County has a law that will go into effect next January, while the City of Long Beach, LI, has enacted a similar measure. But the bills being debated at the Capitol specifically targets municipalities of 1 million people or more — with New York City being the only place in the state coming under that designation.

The office of Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) told the Chronicle two weeks ago members were attempting to work out concerns over language with the Council.

Jordan Christensen, a program coordinator with Citizens Campaign for the Environment, said Monday her group particularly objects to Albany changing tack from a pre-emptive measure to what amounts to a complete moratorium.

Bystryn on Friday said the reason for the initial delay was to avoid just the situation that may be developing the next six days.

“The State Legislature has had seven months to work on changes and now, when New York City has purchased 400,000 reusable bags and is putting the final touches on implementation, the Senate and Assembly are moving to change the goal post again in the 11th hour,” she said.

Councilmen Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn), the primary sponsor of the law, and Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton), a strong proponent, both spoke at Sunday’s rally. Richards said the stakes are far higher than just another Albany-City Hall spitting match.

“With the prospect of more and more executive orders stripping America of its environmental protections, New York must be the centerpiece of combating climate change for the next four years,” Richards said. “Blocking the bag fee is a step in the wrong direction for our city and state, especially with solid evidence from other municipalities showing that this policy truly will work to decrease our dependence on plastic bags.”

He said the Rockaways, Southern Brooklyn and Staten Island suffered the severe impacts of bad weather not too long ago with Superstorm Sandy, making it more important that people react on environmental issues quickly.