Cuomo signs law to halt NYC bag tax

Gazette photo by David Bohdan Tregaskis.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law Tuesday that nullifies a controversial bag tax in New York City that was set to go into effect today.

The state law places a moratorium on the adoption or implementation of any local law that charges a fee on shopping bags until a task force can study alternatives and develop a statewide solution.

During a recent legislative budget hearing in Albany, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio argued with legislators in justifying why the bag fee is needed: to reduce petroleum-based products and change consumer behavior.

Cuomo filed a memo with the bill to explain his action.

The governor called the City Council’s law “an earnest attempt at a real solution” to climate change and pollution, added that it is “deeply flawed” because merchants would have kept the nickel fee, some stores would have been exempt and it does not provide a statewide solution.

“There is no need to pass an overly compromised bill,” Cuomo said. “We can and should promulgate the best policy in the country.”

Cuomo noted that The New York City Department of Sanitation collects an estimated 1,700 tons of plastic bags each week, costing $12.5 million annually in disposal costs. Statewide, New Yorkers use an estimated 23 billion plastic bags annually.”

Because plastic bag waste impacts numerous areas in New York, the governor is creating a task force to study the issue and has not ruled out taxes and fees statewide.

“It is a statewide challenge.” Cuomo later moving on to ask the following questions: Should the State ban plastic bag carryout product, is tax the best approach? Who should be the beneficiary? Should the state supply reusable bags to needy families during a transition period so relieve financial burden?

Cuomo has asked the Senate and the Assembly to appoint co-chairs alongside his own to tackle the plastic bag issue. Cuomo’s expectation is to look at other states and cities that have experience and data handling this issue, including California, the District of Colombia and Chicago.

“By the end of this year, this task force will conclude with a report and proposed legislation,” Cuomo said.

Environmental groups had praise the City Council’s law as written and were disappointed that it has been placed on hold.

“We are deeply saddened that Governor Cuomo has signed the bill to nullify New York City’s fee on carryout bags,” said Marcia Bystryn, the president of the New York League of Conservation Voters. “Though we appreciate his obvious concern for the issue, this is now a law on the books that overturns the principle of home rule and leaves us with no near-term solution to the very real problem of plastic bag waste.”

“We take Gov. Cuomo at his word that he will work with the Senate and Assembly and act expeditiously,” Bystryn added. “The League looks forward to participating in the process and holding our state government accountable for enacting the best possible policy solution.”