Berliner Agrees to More Time to Evaluate Bag Tax

Roger BerlinerMontgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner, chair of the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee, wrote to County Executive Isiah Leggett on Nov. 6 regarding Bill 10-13. The bill would modify the County’s 5-cent tax on bags. Berliner said he and the bill’s co-sponsors will agree to the Executive Branch’s request to allow more time for evaluation of the program.

The complete text of Councilmember Berliner’s letter:

The Honorable Isiah Leggett
Montgomery County Executive
101 Monroe Street
Rockville, MD 20850

Dear County Executive Leggett,

Thank you for reaching out to discuss the Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy & Environment Committee’s recommendation to more closely conform our county’s bag tax to that adopted by the District of Columbia. As you know, the DC law applies the .05 cent tax exclusively to “businesses that sell food or alcohol.”

I appreciate your assurance that you are in fact willing to reassess the scope of our law, but that you believe we should have the benefit of two years of operation, a survey, and more data before doing so.

I have conferred with my cosponsors and, based on your representations, we will not move forward with further legislative action until we have the benefit of additional time, study, and data. Accordingly, I have requested that the Council President and Vice President not schedule full Council deliberation on Bill 10-13 until further notice.

I would request that the data and focus of further surveys be directed towards the fundamental issue raised by Bill 10-13, i.e., not the efficacy of the bag tax generally but rather its scope. There is broad agreement on the benefits of the tax as adopted by the District of Columbia. That is not what needs further analysis.

Any future survey and analysis should explore the effectiveness of the tax in changing behavior as it relates to department stores, clothing stores, hair salons, and other retail establishments that were not included in either the District of Columbia’s law or any other jurisdiction in the country that applies such a tax.

While I personally believe that there are times when we can rely upon common sense as opposed to data, there is no question that more data is better than less if we are to make educated decisions with regard to this matter. If the data demonstrates that the legislation has resulted in a statistically significant reduction in the use of disposable bags in such establishments, that fact would be a very important consideration in our deliberations.

I would also request that you begin the work on conducting such a survey in a timeframe that will allow you to have the results by mid-year 2014 which would presumably allow you to forward your recommendations regarding changes to the scope of the law, if any, by the end of the summer. I anticipate scheduling a Committee meeting in September 2014, to review the data, survey results, and your recommendations.

Best Regards,
Roger Berliner
Chair, Transportation, Infrastructure Energy, & Environment Committee
Montgomery County Council

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