Montgomery council approves bag tax
Customers to be charged a nickel per sack beginning in January
Many Montgomery County stores will begin charging customers a nickel to use plastic or paper shopping bags, beginning in January.
The County Council on Tuesday approved the 5-cent tax to be charged at grocery stores, department stores, convenience stores and other retail establishments.
The vote was 8-1, with Councilwoman Nancy M. Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park opposed.
The decision was supported by environmental groups hoping to reduce the use of plastic bags, but was strongly opposed by the plastic bag industry.
Floreen said the tax is unnecessary because county residents already recycle about 80 percent of materials that can be recycled.
"This is the wrong tax at the wrong time," she said Tuesday. "Maybe 10 years ago when people weren't recycling it would have made a difference."
However, council Vice President Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac said the county recycles few plastic bags. Many, he said, end up as litter in the county's streams and rivers or along roads.
Montgomery County will be the first Maryland jurisdiction with such a tax in place.
County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), who proposed the tax, said it will encourage shoppers to bring reusable bags to stores and keep plastic shopping bags from becoming litter in the county's streams and rivers.
Officials say they will create an educational campaign for residents and spend the bulk of money raised by the tax to buy reusable bags for anyone who wants them.
The tax is modeled after similar legislation in Washington, D.C., which taxes only bags from grocery stores. In the year since the tax has been imposed, the District has raised $2 million below the original estimate of $3.5 million.
With the start-up next year, the bag tax will raise more than $560,000 in fiscal 2012, which begins July 1, according to county spokesman Patrick K. Lacefield.
Of that, he said, $234,000 will be spent on administrative costs; about $300,000 will go toward public education, outreach and other efforts; and $28,000 will be added to the county's Water Quality Protection Fund.
Supporters of the tax say customers can avoid it by bringing their own reusable bags to stores.
"Just the mere thought that they are going to have to pay for something means they are going to change their behavior," said Councilman Craig L. Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown.
How they voted
-President Valerie Ervin: Yes
-Vice President Roger Berliner: Yes
-Philip Andrews: Yes
-Marc Elrich: Yes
-Nancy M. Floreen: No
-George L. Leventhal: Yes
-Nancy Navarro: Yes
-Craig L. Rice: Yes
-Hans Riemer: Yes