BGA: Chicago's plastic-bag tax faked 'green' crusade to rake in green
The Better Government Association (BGA) recently suggested that the Chicago City Council’s new 7 cents-a-bag tax authorization is one more in a series of cloaked legislative efforts, wherein the stated purpose may obscure another motive.
BGA compared the new tax with previous attempts by the city to increase capital. Citing inflated parking meter fees, red-light camera problems and, most recently, Cook County president Tony Preckwinkle’s tax on sweetened beverages, BGA President and CEO Andy Shaw suggested that this tax may end up costing the government the public’s trust in exchange for the cash cushion.
“Pretending the bag tax is about anything other than revenue just breeds cynicism in already suspicious Chicagoans,” Shaw said.
The levy was created under Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s 2017 budget. Tagged informally as the “Irish plastic bag tax,” after a 2002 rule passed in Ireland discouraging the use of unsustainable bags to curb litter, the regulation struck BGA as potentially ineffective due to its relatively small cost impact.
When Ireland imposed the fee, it succeeded largely because of its relative heft. At the equivalent of 30 cents per bag, it was more than enough to discourage use across the pond. However, Chicago’s current efforts — calibrated at only 7 cents per bag — may not be enough of a deterrence here, BGA said.
“[It] raises questions about whether shoppers at Chicago grocery and retail outlets will view it more as an annoying trifle than a penalty to actively avoid,” BGA said.
Opponents said taxes that are tailored to individual goods are inequitable because they affect low-income consumers most. Additionally, the tax revenue raised will benefit the city, not environmental causes.
“It is not about the environment,” Kim Wasserman, executive director of the neighborhood nonprofit Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, said.
City spokeswoman Molly Poppe of the Office of Budget and Management said that the goal is “to change behavior” but the larger issue is really transparency, BGA countered.
“So maybe it’s time for public officials to bag the ‘greater good’ claim and play it straight,” Shaw said. “If government needs revenue, say so. Don’t pretend it’s about health, safety or environmental protection.”