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April 2, 2019

Oswego County Rejects State's New Tax on Paper Bags

OSWEGO COUNTY, NY - Just three days after adoption of a New York State budget that bans plastic bags and gives counties the option of imposing a 5-cent per bag tax on paper bags, the Oswego County Legislature's Finance and Personnel Committee voted to opt out and reject the new tax Thursday afternoon, April 4. The ban on plastic grocery bags is expected to take effect in March 2020.

"The State's new tax on paper bags is poor public policy that won't work," said County Legislature Chairman James Weatherup, District 9, Central Square. "The policy has so many waivers and exemptions there will still be multiple plastic bags in the waste stream and the environment. The 5-cent paper bag tax would be paid by taxpayers who are already over-taxed by New York State."

The State budget compromise, reached by the Governor and the State Legislature on the eve of April Fool's Day, places a ban on single-use plastic bags. However, it exempts bags used to wrap uncooked meat and fish; bags used to package bulk items like produce and bulk candy; bags that contain food sliced or prepared to order; bags used for newspaper delivery; bags sold in bulk at point of sale; trash bags; food storage bags; garment bags; bags prepackaged for sale to a customer; bags used to carry out or deliver restaurant food; and bags provided by a pharmacy to carry prescription drugs.

The State law allows counties and cities to impose a 5-cent tax on paper carryout bags, beginning in 2020. The paper bag tax cannot apply to customers using SNAP, WIC, or other similar programs. Although the local government imposes the tax, the State would collect it. The State will pay 40 percent of the tax to the local government only if the money is used to provide reusable bags to low- and fixed-income persons. The State would keep the remaining 60 percent for the State's Environmental Protection Fund.

"The State wants the local governments to be the bad guy and impose the tax on our citizens, but the State gets most of the money and won't allow it to be used for any local services," said Legislature Majority Leader Terry Wilbur, District 21, Hannibal. "We're not falling for that. If the State wants to increase revenue to support the Environmental Protection Fund, they should do it properly and dedicate funds for that purpose."

The State budget allocates $300 million for the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF). Revenue from the new tax would be added to that amount.

"Management of plastic grocery bags has been an issue for a number of years, and we certainly support efforts to remove them from the waste stream," said Legislature Minority Leader Frank Castiglia Jr., District 25, Fulton. "However, to create an additional tax, with a complicated policy requiring additional layers of bureaucracy, is not the way to go. The State needs to develop a well-thought out, comprehensive plan that properly addresses all concerns and will resolve these issues for generations to come."

Legislator Patrick Twiss (District 13, New Haven) is chairman of the Oswego County Environmental Management Council and a member of the Legislature's Finance and Personnel Committee.

"It is somewhat ironic that we are discussing this issue at the same time that we're encouraging our citizens to participate in Earth Day activities," said Legislator Twiss. "The Environmental Protection Fund is an important funding source for solid waste programs, parks and recreation, and open space programs. But passing a law that may increase the cutting of trees to make more paper bags, just so you can tax the paper bags, is no way to fund the EPF. What the State is doing boils down to this - 'Let's hurt the environment, so we can raise money to save the environment.'"

In addition to Legislators Twiss and Wilbur, members of the Legislature's Finance and Personnel Committee include committee chairman John Martino, District 6, Hastings; committee vice chairman Stephen Walpole, District 14, Oswego; Daniel Farfaglia, District 24, Fulton; David Holst, District 4, Amboy; and Linda Lockwood, District 11, Volney.


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