More ignored news: Bag tax is coming to Richmond

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From the American Progressive Bag Alliance flyer opposing local bag taxes.

by Steve Haner

The recently approved plastic bag tax in Roanoke and several towns in Northern Virginia, created by the General Assembly in 2020 as a local option, is also coming to the city of Richmond. This was promised in the same Richmond City Council resolution of September 13 on the “climate crisis” that involved a future shutdown of Richmond gas plants.

As was the case with the vote on the future of natural gas, Richmond’s dying local new media either missed or ignored the story. Richmond is not one of the locations mentioned directly in this Baggage Tax Status Summary published by Virginie Mercury today.

Supporters say the tax is not intended to increase revenue, but rather to eliminate the use of bags. It’s wonderful to see that some people understand how taxes stifle economic activity, even progressives (when it suits them).

No order to impose the tax in Richmond is yet pending. Instead, acknowledging who really is hurt by this widespread idea (the poor), the resolution promises:

The Council, prior to the imposition of a tax on disposable plastic bags, hereby commits to conduct a robust community engagement process to identify key equity challenges and plan support for low-income city residents and small businesses to help these residents in a transition to reusable Bags.

And:

The Council… to the extent permitted by law, hereby undertakes to use the revenue generated from a tax on disposable plastic bags to support a fair implementation of the tax on disposable plastic bags…

Thus, the city’s apparent intention is to use the bag tax revenue to provide reusable bags to its citizens. This appears to be in general agreement with the permitted uses of the money, as stated in the tax impact study of the invoice posted on the website of the Department of Taxation:

All revenue accruing to the county or city from a tax on disposable plastic bags should be earmarked for environmental cleaning purposes, providing education programs designed to reduce environmental waste, by mitigating pollution and waste, or by providing reusable bags to beneficiaries of nutritional supplements. Benefits of the Assistance Program (SNAP) or the Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC).

The tax department issued guidance on implementing the tax on September 1, triggering this round of approvals.

At five cents per bag, say 50 cents if you leave the grocery store with ten bags, in a matter of weeks that reusable bag pays for itself. But the most likely outcome will be a different answer to the question: paper or plastic?

That’s what Food Lion told the Fairfax County Supervisory Board to expect ahead of its recent vote to impose the tax there. Customers will just choose the paper,

reinforce our dependence on international sources of paper bag supply … limited international sources, resulting in additional carbon emissions from transporting the bags as well as additional trucks on county roads to transport the bags in heavier and denser paper. For these two stores alone, we estimate that an additional 12 trucks would be added to the already congested roads in Fairfax County to accommodate the planned shift from plastic to paper.

In the effort for green virtue, compromises abound. The bag industry backed down by pointing out that plastic bags are already recyclable (although they don’t degrade as easily as paper), in fact use few resources, and are reused more often than many realize. The most common uses are to line trash cans or to collect dog poop. Most households keep a stash on hand for several things. An industry counterpoint sheet used in the Fairfax County debate is worth checking out.

The bag tax is one of the smallest in the myriad of tax increases approved by the Democrats in the General Assembly with their new majority, and you might remember that it barely came out of it. the departure gate during a narrow vote in the House of Delegates. It took a few votes to switch after the initial failure (as reported in 2020).

The House sponsor was Richmond Democrat Betsy Carr, now in a contested race, and she received support from other Richmond-area Democrats. Six Democrats, including Schuyler VanValkenburg from Henrico County and Rosalyn Tyler from Southside, essentially voted both ways, or tried to do so. After voting yes, they filed a note with the Clerk of the House for inclusion in the official record stating that they “intended to vote no”.

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