Will Montgomery County Council bag the bag tax? -- Gazette.Net


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Residents will have their say tonight on a measure that would scale back Montgomery County’s tax on carryout bags just a year after it was imposed.

As of noon, 21 people had registered to speak at the public hearing, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. The council’s daily mail box has also been receiving a steady stream of comments about the proposed change, with at least 18 letters and emails received on the subject today alone, according to logs in the Office of Legislative Information Services.

The public hearing will add residents’ comments to the debate on the bill, backed by four members of the County Council, that aims to stop charging the tax on bags at department stores and restaurants. The bill would essentially limit the tax to bags at grocery stores and other retailers that gross more than 2 percent of their sales from food.

Councilman Roger Berliner, who led the effort in 2011 to impose the tax, introduced the bill along with Council Vice President Craig L. Rice, Councilman George L. Leventhal and Councilwoman Nancy Floreen.

Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda said previously he always thought that the law’s broad scope might be overreaching, while Floreen (D-At Large) of Garrett Park previously said she did not support it from the get-go.

Rice (D-Dist. 2) of Germantown said previously that some of the negative feedback he has heard in the community included profiling for shoplifters and challenges for clothing retailers.

Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park previously said there remains confusion in the public about where and how the tax is applied.

Patterned off a similar law in Washington, the council currently taxes most carryout bags, with a few noted exceptions.

Paper bags provided at restaurants for take-out, bags for prescription drugs, plastic bags for perishables, plastic bags sold for yard waste, garbage, pet waste, dry-cleaning and newspapers, and bags provided at farmers markets were originally exempt from the tax.

Montgomery began levying the tax in January 2012 to help change residents’ attitudes from blasé to environmentally conscious and to reduce the number of bags in waterways. The money collected pays for stormwater management projects through the Water Quality Protection Fund.

Montgomery County collected about $2.2 million from the tax in its first 12 months, double what was expected, and County Executive Spokesman Patrick Lacefield said when the bill was introduced that negative feedback has been at a minimum.

If the tax remains as is, the county expects to collect $2.5 million from taxes on about 60 million bags in fiscal 2013.