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Montgomery County Passes Bag Tax

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Montgomery County is planning to provide reusable bags like these to shoppers once a new 5-cent tax on disposable bags is implemented next year. The County Council passed the tax May 3.
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Montgomery County is planning to provide reusable bags like these to shoppers once a new 5-cent tax on disposable bags is implemented next year. The County Council passed the tax May 3.

The cost per bag is five cents, and it applies to both paper and plastic models. Bags given to customers for prescription drugs, or at restaurants to carry home leftovers, are excluded.

The tax mirrors one that went into effect in D.C. in January 2010. The District government collected roughly $2 million from the tax in 2010, although that number fell short of the $3.5 million projection.

Montgomery County officials told the Gazette newspaper that the majority of the money raised through the bag tax will be used to provide reusable bags to shoppers free of charge.

Montgomery County Council member George Leventhal says while this is a tax, people can avoid it by bringing reusable bags.

"Any tax is avoidable in some way. Gasoline tax is avoidable if you don't buy gas. Income tax is avoidable if you don't earn income," he says. "And the bag tax is avoidable if you don't take the bag."

Council member Nancy Floreen cast the lone dissenting vote to the tax. She says the tax won't work to reduce use of plastic bags, adding that it makes little sense to pass a new environmental tax while cutting related county services.

"At the same time that the county executive proposed this tax, he proposed a budget that in effect guts the parks department," she says. "Streams are in parks, and it is the parks department that maintains those streams."

Part of the justification for the tax is to help keep plastic bags from polluting the county's rivers and streams.

Floreen adds the county should just ban plastic bags altogether if lawmakers are that worried about their environmental impact.

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