Bagged bag tax could make comeback

Bagged bag tax could make comeback
File photo

By Anna Harris (File photo)

State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) is taking another shot at a bag tax, this time by possibly letting local officials decide whether to adopt the levy in the hopes it’ll win over opponents.

Ebbin’s previous attempts would have seen the tax go into effect across the state. The shift in strategy could help him overcome traditional opposition to a bag tax in the General Assembly.

“[Ebbin] thinks if he can limit it in Northern Virginia, then it has a better chance of getting through,” said Bernie Caton, Alexandria’s legislative director.

Caton briefed city councilors on the unfinished proposal last month as part of a discussion about Alexandria’s legislative goals for the upcoming General Assembly session. If Ebbin is successful, shoppers in certain communities could see their bills increase by a nickel for almost every paper or plastic bag they get at the store.

In prior versions of the legislation, proceeds would be split between retailers and the state’s water-quality improvement fund. Ebbin’s revised proposal instead shunts a portion of the money toward local cleanup efforts.

Not all bags would be subject to the levy. Exempted bags include those for ice cream and medical prescriptions.

The point, Ebbin said, is encouraging shoppers to adopt reusable bags — not raising more tax revenue.

“The goal is to change behavior rather than take money,” he said.

Past opposition to a bag tax has come in part from merchants, according to Caton.

“It’s more work for them, and people are already using reusable bags,” he said. “They think the current system works well, and they encourage people to recycle. … [They think] the tax will be a burden.”

Residents’ opinions run the gamut on the measure.

“I’m all for it,” said Andrea Haslinger while browsing for cards in CVS Pharmacy. “Anything that cuts down on the amount of plastic. … It depends on what they use [the money from the tax] for.”

Fellow shopper Jeffrey Baxter vehemently disagreed.

“With inflation the way it is, do you really need me to answer that question,” he said. “I think it’s a bad idea. … They should be talking about upping minimum wage instead of making more taxes.”

Alexandria’s top elected officials have not formalized the city’s legislative agenda, but the local bag tax idea is in the mix, Caton said. Nearby Washington and Montgomery County have adopted similar fees in recent years.

While the city has no formal position on the bag tax yet — Alexandria’s legislative packet will be adopted November 26 — Ebbin’s proposed bill has received support from officials.

“They wouldn’t [be putting] it out for public comment if they didn’t think it was potentially a good idea,” Caton said.