There’s a proposal being pushed in Prince George’s County that I fear will harm the business and minority communities that I have committed to serve. It’s a grocery bag tax, and it will make every trip to the supermarket more expensive.
Officials in Prince George’s County want to charge a tax for every paper and plastic bag you use. The state legislature is considering letting them do it. The impacts a new grocery bag tax will have on low-income individuals and small businesses are simply unacceptable, especially when taxes like these have no proven environmental benefit.
This is made worse by the fact that our economy continues to struggle. High unemployment, increasing costs and tightening family budgets are what everyday Americans face. Adding a new grocery tax is like a slap in the face. Under these conditions, our elected officials should really be focused on creating jobs, not making food purchases more costly.
While nickel taxes may not sound like a lot for some, for those trying to make ends meets, they matter. Unlike some taxes, a tax on grocery bags is charged equally across income levels, on a per-bag basis — meaning it hits the poorest among us particularly hard. This point can best be summed up by a statistic from the Congressional Budget Office. Its data tells us that the poorest fifth of Americans spend 21.4 percent of their income on gas and utilities — basic necessities — while the richest 20 percent spend only 6.8 percent. This tax will only make this fact worse.
We know that when Washington, D.C., imposed a tax on grocery bags similar to what’s proposed for Prince George’s County, the city drained $5 million from the wallets of people who live and shop in D.C. Now, D.C. officials can’t even say for certain if the tax was effective at achieving its goal. We have seen the same in Montgomery County, where a bag tax is estimated to reduce incomes by $2 million and there has been no substantive decline in plastic bag use.
If Prince George’s imposes a tax on grocery bags, it also will hurt businesses. Why would anyone choose to shop at Prince George’s County’s small businesses when they know they’ll be charged more? A tax on bags is bad for local business.
Some people argue that it’s OK to tax citizens to improve the environment or clean up litter. But the truth is plastic bags alone make up less than 0.5 percent of the waste stream. Taxing them won’t a make difference. Seems to me, proper disposal is the answer.
Any debate on new taxes deserves serious consideration of the facts and the consequences. My argument is simple: Taxing grocery bags hurts shoppers and small businesses and has no silver lining. Legislators should make the right decision: Reject a new tax on Prince George’s residents.
Ron Busby is president of the U.S. Black Chamber Inc.