NYC Council Members Trash Cuomo for Strangling Their Five-Cent Plastic Bag Fee

Councilwoman Margaret Chin, left, rallies with Councilman Mark Levine, Councilman Brad Lander, Councilman Corey Johnson and environmental activists.

Councilwoman Margaret Chin, left, rallies with Councilman Mark Levine, Councilman Brad Lander, Councilman Corey Johnson and environmental activists. Will Bredderman/Observer

Brooklyn Councilman Brad Lander and Manhattan Councilwoman Margaret Chin—the architects of the city’s planned five-cent surcharge on paper and plastic bags—accused Gov. Andrew Cuomo of suffocating both local government and the planet by signing off on legislation blocking the implementation of the statute.

Chin and Lander sold the fee, which was slated to take effect tomorrow, as a way to encourage New Yorkers start carrying reusable totes by obligating stores to charge customers an extra nickel for every disposable carryout sack. The pair has long maintained that bags cling to trees, clog storm trains, pack landfills, kill wildlife, accrue into islands in the ocean and cost the city million of dollars each year to eliminate.

But the Democratic Assembly and GOP State Senate passed bills earlier this year to smother the measure, which they argued would weigh heavily on hard-up New Yorkers.

“We fought plastic bags, and for now, plastic bags won. They are stubborn and toxic forms of solid waste,” Lander and Chin wrote in a joint statement. “And they are hard to dislodge from the State Legislature, too.”

The pair noted that a number of other cities across the country and across the planet have passed similar laws, and that New York City’s statute would exempt people on public assistance from the extra impost.

The Lander-Chin measure cleared the Council almost a year ago amid bitter debate, and was supposed to go into effect in October. But Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito bowed to pressure from Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, and agreed to postpone implementation until this month.

Brooklyn State Senator Simcha Felder and Staten Island Assemblyman Michael Cusick spearheaded legislation to put the city’s bag fee in the trash permanently this year.

In a statement to the press, Cuomo acknowledged the concerns that inspired the surcharge, and called Lander and Chin’s proposal “an earnest attempt at a real solution.” But he argued it was “deeply flawed,” since it allowed merchants to pocket the five cents they collected on each bag.

He noted that the law did not institute the extra charge as a tax and have the city use it as a source of revenue, since that would have required state approval.

“The windfall profit to private entities is unjustifiable and unnecessary,” Cuomo wrote, noting that the issue of bag waste pervades not just the city but the entire state. “As such, a statewide solution is the most appropriate way to address this issue.”

The governor floated several alternative notions, including banning disposable bags entirely, establishing an actual tax on them and having the state produce and distribute reusable bags. But he said those determinations would fall on a new “task force” impaneled by himself, leaders of the Assembly and Senate and “local governments and stakeholders.”

Cuomo promised this committee would render a proposed solution by year’s end.

“This task force will be different than usual as this matter requires expeditious action. I will ask the Senate and the Assembly to appoint Co-Chairs with me so that the recommendation can be quickly legislated. Local governments and stakeholders will also be included. “I look forward to New York State leading the way on this issue.”