EDITORIAL: Bag tax is still a bad idea

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(Photo/Stock image)

State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) is taking another stab at imposing a tax on paper and plastic bags provided to shoppers at stores. Even with Ebbin’s potential new wrinkle of letting localities decide whether to implement the tax, it remains a bad idea. To quote former President Ronald Reagan, “There he goes again.”

Let’s count the ways that this is an unfortunate piece of legislation.

First, it’s bad for businesses. The last thing that merchants need is another government mandate to enforce.

Though Ebbin’s bill would let retailers keep some portion of the tax receipts, it likely wouldn’t be enough to cover the hassle and expense of collecting the money. Businesses need to be left alone as much as possible so they can focus on providing the goods, services and jobs that fuel our economy.

The concept of taxing us for using a new bag also is extraordinarily patronizing. Yes, we all need to be responsible and environmentally sensitive and aware. We also need to floss every day and drink less alcohol, but we don’t need Ebbin telling us to do so.

Port City residents also don’t need to be hit with yet another tax. Does anyone doubt that our elected leaders would choose to opt in to this new revenue stream if given the chance?

Most people willingly — or at least grudgingly — pay big taxes on their income, sales and property, as there’s a sense that these are necessary to fulfill the large roles of government in protection, education, infrastructure and providing a safety net.

On the other hand, a tax like Ebbin’s would literally nickel and dime us every time we walk into a store. It’s akin to the practice of many retailers trying to get us to give to their favorite charity every time we buy toothpaste. The difference is the retailer can opt out of asking for charitable contributions and the shopper can opt out of donating. There would be no such individual choice under Ebbin’s bill.

To reiterate, we are all for efforts to preserve the environment. Great inroads have been made in recent years in recycling, even though it’s still voluntary in Virginia. And many more people are voluntarily bringing reusable bags into stores.

Initiatives that educate and encourage environmentally responsible behavior — without being punitive — are fine. But let’s stop recycling the same old arguments for yet another tax to make us do what the government thinks is best for us.