Trying to bag the bag tax

I get the most interesting e-mail sometimes, and it helps to give me ideas for topics to write about in situations like this where my other commitments keep me from writing more lengthy, in-depth articles like the Harris townhall story now set for tomorrow.

About a week ago I received an e-mail from Claudia Holwill, who works for Edelman, a communications firm in Washington, D.C. I have a nodding familiarity with them because the good folks at API also apparently use them – most items from my friend Jane Van Ryan are also copied to a different Edelman employee. Holwill wrote me because, in part, her company must follow my website or at least is familiar with the group of sites covering Maryland politics:

I am writing because I saw your recent post about continuing efforts to raise taxes in Maryland, and wanted to reach out regarding the proposed legislation to tax plastic bags that you mentioned, and to see if you would be interested in meeting with an executive from Hilex in DC next week. 

Sadly, my previous commitments this week precluded me from that meeting, but it’s understandable that Hilex Poly, the company in question here, would be very interested in the prospect of a tax given that they are a plastic bag producer. And it’s no different than any of the several sources who pitch story ideas, meetings, conference calls, etc. to me given my position as a somewhat influential political blogger who can give them free pixels. And, of course, I don’t like tax increases any more than the next guy.

But there’s something else in the mix here as well. Think back to the days before you had the choice of “paper or plastic.”

Paper bags have a number of inherent weaknesses: they can tear easily, don’t stand up well to water or grease, and aren’t that convenient to carry. Obviously someone saw the opportunity to create a better bag and plastic bags are now the norm because they addressed these issues and more. Of course, they’re not environmentally correct because they’re not biodegradable like paper is, so the environmentalist wackos want to tax plastic bags and encourage the use of cloth bags. (But you have to carry them through the store to do your shopping. Wouldn’t that promote shoplifting?)

Bag makers play up their recycling angle. Another item Holwill sent me was this from Advance Polybag:

Advance Polybag, Inc., an Elkridge manufacturer of plastic bags, could see its jobs threatened if state lawmakers pass a five cent tax on grocery bags this legislative session. Passage of the bill would affect 140 people and their families.

Today, Rex Varn, Executive Vice President of Advance Polybag, released the following statement:

“We’re speaking out on this issue because we have an obligation to defend the 140 people who work at our plant in Elkridge and the numerous local businesses that support our operation. The bill the Maryland Legislature is considering will put these jobs at risk.

It will tax people at a time when the state is already struggling with 220,000 unemployed. No other state has implemented such a policy, and in fact, states that have tried, have rejected such proposals – instead opting to promote recycling efforts – a more effective solution to litter.

We are interested in having a productive dialogue to find more common sense solutions. Instead of a tax, we support promoting bag recycling – an approach that creates jobs and preserves consumer freedom and convenience. Many do not realize that plastic bags are safe, clean and 100 percent recyclable. They are made from natural gas, not oil; nine out of ten bags are re-used by consumers; and, when recycled, they create new materials.

We are committed to continuing our efforts to ensure that, as an industry, we provide the safest, most energy-efficient alternative at checkout.”

One thing Advance also pointed out is that the tax would create “a 500 percent levy on the good,” all for about $2 million in revenue over the next five years. They may call it the “Clean the Streams and Beautify the Bay Act of 2011” but it’s not about the Bay – it’s about the Benjamins.

Is it possible to have a useful product anymore without some do-gooder trying to get rid of it, tax it to death, or both? Let’s hope the plastic bag tax meets the same fate last year’s attempt does.