When it comes to behaving badly, the New York State Legislature has been thinking outside the box. There are, it turns out, ways to do the wrong thing that go beyond the usual influence-peddling, bribing, extorting and other common varieties of Albany venality.
There is, for example, undoing good work done elsewhere. That is the aim of a noxious bill that has gained momentum in the waning days of the Albany session. It would squelch New York City’s recently adopted 5-cent fee on disposable plastic shopping bags.
The City Council, after years of deliberation and through a finely wrought compromise, passed the fee as an antipollution measure. It seeks to sharply reduce the use of the bags, whose ubiquity and near-indestructibility have made them one of the city’s signature eyesores and a serious environmental threat.
The state legislation, sponsored in the Senate by Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat, and in the Assembly by Michael Cusick, a Staten Island Democrat, would forbid any city to impose fees or taxes to discourage the use of plastic bags. The measure would, in a stroke, force the city to accept the perpetuation of the plastic-trash free-for-all, with tons of discarded bags clogging the sewers, festooning tree branches and littering sidewalks.
Continue reading the main story
Why would Albany do this? Because Albany can. Because New York City has no power compared with the muscle Albany can flex. Because the will of a sovereign city counts for little when there are populist points to be scored, and plastic-bag-maker lobbyists to please.
The bag fee is not, in the scheme of things, earth-shattering. It’s a nickel. It is not a tax — the city doesn’t collect or spend any of the revenue — it’s just a calculated inconvenience to give consumers an incentive to shop with reusable bags. The fee is potentially annoying, but it spares the poor and businesses that would suffer unduly, for benefits that would be enjoyed across the populace. Cities that have tried fees have found that they work splendidly.
But for meddlesome reasons, some Albany pols want to overrule the City Council, citing dubious principle. “You’re irritating people to change their behavior — that’s not what we’re here for,” Mr. Felder said recently.
Some would argue that it’s the state legislators who do the irritating, which is easy enough under a system of government that forces the city and its mayor to go begging to Albany for money and permission to do basic things like run the schools, regulate traffic and, in this case, somehow shrink a mountain of plastic trash. Getting a handle on disposable bags was a simple, smart decision that the City Council should have been able to make for itself. If the Legislature persists in passing this meddling bill, then Gov. Andrew Cuomo will have to be the grown-up who sets this particular wrong right.