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Cuomo Could Kill 5-Cent Plastic Bag 'Tax,' Advocates Fear

By Leslie Albrecht | February 8, 2017 1:18pm
 Attendees at a 2013 anti-plastic bag forum in Park Slope made a mandala (a Hindu and Buddhist symbol) out of plastic bags to draw attention to the prevalance of single-use plastic bags.
Attendees at a 2013 anti-plastic bag forum in Park Slope made a mandala (a Hindu and Buddhist symbol) out of plastic bags to draw attention to the prevalance of single-use plastic bags.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

PARK SLOPE —  A long-sought bid to rid the city of plastic bags is in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's hands following a vote Tuesday by state lawmakers to halt a 5-cent fee.

Cuomo now has 10 days to either veto or sign off on the Assembly bill that aims to delay the bag "tax" by a year. Delaying the new charge would essentially kill the proposal, advocates say.

City Council members Brad Lander and Margaret Chin, who co-sponsored the bill to charge the bag fee, called on Cuomo on Wednesday to support it, saying it's "consistent with his progressive track record on environmental policy."

"We are disappointed at the Assembly decision to ignore the unified voice of New York's environmental, climate justice and neighborhood groups — at the very moment the federal government is rolling back environmental protections," Lander and Chin said in a joint statement.

"We appeal to Governor Cuomo to help us reach a compromise that would allow New York City to try out this effective, common-sense strategy for dealing with the 10 billion plastic bags that pollute our trees, oceans and landfills every year."

Lander urged supporters to contact Cuomo and invited them to a rally where environmental groups would urge the governor to "save" the "Bring Your Own Bag" bill at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at 633 Third Ave.

The city spends $12.5 million year sending some 9.37 billion bags to landfills, according to supporters of the bag fee.

Many also get snagged in tree branches and clog storm drains.

Supporters of the fee say it could slash plastic bag use by 90 percent and they point to other cities where such fees have been a success.

READ MORE: How the 5-Cent Plastic Bag 'Tax' Will Impact You

But opponents argued that the 5-cent fee was a "regressive tax" that would unfairly burden low-income families.

City Councilman David Greenfield said at a 2016 rally that the extra charge could cost an average New Yorker $100 a year. Stores would get to keep the 5-cent fee under the law, which is why it's not technically classified as a tax.

The governor's press office did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday morning. Cuomo told reporters at an unrelated event Wednesday that he was reviewing the bill and expected to make a decision "soon," Politico reported.

"It’s a complicated issue, there are real environmental concerns but there are also economic concerns," Cuomo said.

"You charge people 5 cents for every plastic bag, it doesn’t sound like much but it adds up — especially on people who are suffering in hard economic times."

The City Council approved the bag charge, which Mayor Bill de Blasio supports, in May. It was supposed to take effect in October, but the start date was moved to Feb. 15 as city and state lawmakers have tried to hash out the issue.

The State Senate voted in January to kill the bag fee and it then moved to the Assembly.

Newly elected state Assemblyman Robert Carroll, whose 44th District includes Park Slope and Windsor Terrace, was one of 16 assembly members to vote against delaying the bag fee, while 122 favored the postponement.

Carroll was the only member of the Assembly's cities committee to support the fee.

Speaking on the Assembly floor, Carroll compared the bill to other environmental measures such as creating the Catskills State Park.

"Conservation is never easy, it always takes sacrifice," Carroll said, adding that shoppers could easily replace plastic bags with reusable totes.

"This bill will make sure that future generations have a better, healthier planet."

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