Leggett to propose Montgomery bag fee
Unclear how much charge would raise
Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) is proposing a fee to use paper and plastic bags at county grocery stores, he said Tuesday.
Under the proposal, which he will announce officially Monday, customers would pay 5 cents per bag.
The proposal is intended to encourage more customers to bring reusable bags to stores to reduce the amount of waste in the county, and to curb the number of plastic bags that end up along county roads or in watersheds, he said.
Leggett said it is the first time a county bag "tax" has been proposed. The County Council, which has final fiscal authority, will vote on whether to implement the fee.
Leggett is proposing that it take effect Jan. 1, after an educational campaign that would include the distribution of free cloth bags.
He expects the county would raise about $1 million from the 5-cent charge in the first year most of which he said would go toward the purchase of reusable bags for customers and to informing residents about the change.
A penny from the tax would go to stores for taking part in the program, and the remainder would go to the county.
Leggett said that at his local grocery store, about one-third of the customers already carry reusable bags.
A similar proposal in the state General Assembly by Del. Alfred C. Carr Jr. (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington would impose a 5-cent state tax on grocery bags.
If both the county and state efforts are approved, the state would either charge the tax or would allow the county to implement its own tax. Customers will not be charged two bags fees.
Leggett said he might support a state bill that would not charge the county money and would incorporate aspects similar to the county proposal, such as free cloth bags.
A majority of the County Council said Monday it did not support a provision in Carr's bill that would ban counties from implementing their own bag taxes for five years after the state bag tax is implemented. They said the county was considering its own fee within that time frame.
Council Vice President Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac said he supports the county tax.
"I think the experience of other communities that have adopted such a tax shows that there is a decrease in the amount of plastic in our environment, which is very damaging to our streams and watershed," he said.
Washington, D.C., grocery stores began charging a bag tax in 2010, and officials have said the District raised $2 million in the first year lower than the original estimate of $3.5 million.
Councilman Craig L. Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown said he also supports the fee, saying he too often sees plastic bags along county roads and in watersheds.
"We oftentimes see that folks don't recycle when it comes to these plastic bags," he said.
Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park said he is considering whether to support a bag tax.
"I like it when I go to Whole Foods, and they give me a nickel for every bag of my own that I bring," he said. "I would like it if retailers would do that rather than a tax."
Leventhal said that while he thinks the bag tax was unpopular at first in Washington, D.C., he would like to know what Montgomery County residents say about it.