9th District Lawmakers Applaud Veto of Plastic Bag Tax

Sep 05, 2018

Ninth District legislators are hailing Gov. Phil Murphy’s veto of a measure to impost a 5-cent fee on single-use plastic carryout bags, saying from the beginning it was obvious the tax was more about generating revenue than about the environment.

“It wasn’t really a hard decision to oppose and vote against the fee in representing the interests of our constituents who are tired of being at the losing end of Trenton’s extreme taxation polices,” Sen. Christopher J. Connors, along with Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman Diane C. Gove, said in a statement released recently.

The legislators said the revenue from the single-use plastic bag fee was earmarked, like other taxes before, for a special fund.

“Trenton rarely adheres to laws establishing dedicated funds, which can be easily disregarded and overridden by the State Budget. Revenue is often siphoned off for other-than-intended use which only serves to infuriate taxpayers, consumers, and businesses,” their joint statement read.

The lawmakers went on to say proponents of the proposed fee readily agreed the people hit the hardest by the tax would be those with lower incomes, including senior citizens. Seniors were to be exempted from the fee, but the bill was amended in an effort to guarantee more revenue could be raised, they said.

“New Jersey dodged another hit to its already unenviable reputation for being unaffordable by the governor’s vetoing the plastic bag fee,” according to the lawmakers.

On Aug. 27, Murphy rejected Assembly Bill 3267, writing, in part, the 5-cent fee on single-use bags doesn’t go far enough in addressing issues created by the overuse of plastic bags. He said a single-use bag program must be put into place and applied across the board in a consistent way to make a true difference.

“As a society, we must break our dependence on single-use bags when going about our daily routines and instead commit ourselves to sustainable alternatives,” Murphy said. “Our responsibilities as stewards of the environment and our natural resources demand nothing less.”

The governor did say, however, that fee-based measures have been in effect in such places as Washington, D.C., for nearly a decade.

“While these localized programs have generally been successful, the time has come for a more robust and comprehensive method of reducing the number of single-use bags in our state,” he said.

Last fall, Long Beach Township became the first town in the state to pass an all-out ban. It went into effect in May and has been met with mostly positive responses. Harvey Cedars followed suit when its prohibition began June 1.

Under the township ordinance, businesses are prohibited from distributing plastic carryout bags to customers. Tackle shops may still use plastic bags for bait. And, as the ordinance clarifies, “the term single-use, plastic carryout bag does not include reusable bags, produce bags, product bags, or garment bags.” Bags may be used for raw meat as well.

Just last month, the seven-member Stafford Township Council unanimously approved an ordinance that also bars the use of carryout bags by all retailers, including national chain stores such as Home Depot, Lowe’s, Kohl’s and TJ Maxx, as well as restaurant establishments like Friday’s, Applebee’s and family-owned businesses.

“This is a difficult decision to make. But you have to fight for the right decision because it’s a big concern,” Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora has said. “Somebody has to take the responsibility to make this step.”

Earlier this month, the Beach Haven Borough Council voted to discontinue the use of carryout bags in town. That measure won’t go into effect until next June, however, to allow merchants time to prepare for the changeover, according to officials there.

During a public hearing on the Beach Haven ordinance, John Wachter, general manager of the Murphy’s Market chain, said that while he agrees plastic bags are harmful, switching over to paper bags does not solve anything.

“Paper bags are just as harmful to the environment,” he said. “Mostly what this ordinance is doing is changing the behaviors of shoppers.”

In place of passing an ordinance to outright banish plastic carryout bags, Ship Bottom embarked on a proactive campaign earlier this summer to reduce usage. To that end, the borough offered reusable bags to homeowners and real estate agencies.

“If we just ban them and tell businesses you can’t do what you’ve always done,” Robert Rossi, Ship Bottom recycling coordinator, said earlier this summer, “they’re never going to learn.”

— Gina G. Scala

ggscala@thesandpaper.net

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