County executive says controversial move still needs more time
After some members of the County Council said the County 5- cent tax on plastic and paper bags is not working to reduce bags, County Executive Ike Leggett said the fee needs more time
After the fee passed in 2011 to reduce the number of bags that end up littering the County’s streets and streams, the number of bags distributed at stores has actually increased since it became effective in 2012.
According to County statistics, the number of bags distributed at County stores averaged 4,340,438 a month in fiscal year 2012. In fiscal year 2017, the average has increased to 5,532,770 a month. Both averages were taken over five-month periods.
“I think it is having an impact, maybe not the impact we anticipated,” Leggett said of the bag tax.
Leggett attributed the increase in the number of bags to people from outside the County who show up without reusable bags and a rise in merchants that have registered to comply with the County law.
Leggett said he did not have evidence to back either claim up, saying the reasons were anecdotes from his shopping experiences in the east tri-county area.
According to statistics from the Department of Finance, the number of retailers that have registered with the County has gone up since the bill was first enacted, from 547 registered retailers in February of FY 12 to 1,404 registered retailers in November of FY 17.
“There are more retailers every month that are submitting the bag tax to us,” said Mike Coveyou, chief of the Division of Treasury at the Montgomery County Department of Finance.
According to Leggett, though the number of bags distributed by County retailers has gone up almost every year – with the exception of FY 16 – the results of the bag tax need more time to be analyzed.
“We need more data, and we need more time to go back and analyze this,” Leggett said.
The bag tax was originally passed as way to encourage people to bring their own reusable shopping bags rather than use the environmentally harmful plastic or paper bags from stores. At the time, the bag tax proponents said the fee was not about collecting money.
Since the tax was implemented in 2012, the County has collected $11,745,761 to be used by the Department of Environmental Protection to protect water quality and improve storm water management infrastructure.
“If we didn’t have the tax, it would come directly out of general revenue,” Leggett said.
Steven Shofar, chief for the watershed management division for the Department of Environmental Protection, said data on bag litter shows that the impact of the bag tax is inconclusive.
Money from the bag tax goes to the water quality protection charge, which is used to help clean streams and improve storm water management infrastructure. While Leggett and Council member George Leventhal (D- At Large) said the revenue from the bag tax is not significant, Shofar said the money from the bag tax helps but that it is hard to say how much.
“It’s hard to quantify because it doesn’t go to a specific program,” Shofar said.
Shofar said money from the water quality protection charge, which is also levied on homeowners as part of their property taxes, goes toward capital improvements programs for storm water management, paying down debt services and maintenance.