By now you have become familiar with the bag tax - a nickel per grocery bag just to help the county control litter. Preposterous!
Truth is, this is just another scam by your local government to take in more money to support big-government spending and is completely unrelated to controlling litter. The only potential way it might cut down on litter is because, perhaps, we'll take fewer bags from the grocery store and have fewer bags available to discard in the street indiscriminately. But seriously, who discards grocery bags in the street indiscriminately? Are they the type that will invest in reusable bags? Myself, I need those bags to collect trash in my car and to line my office waste basket!
Anyways, as I said, the cash taken in from this program is not being used for anything related to the problems caused by grocery bags or litter in general. Some of the cash is being used to fund a WSSC clean water initiative but most of what you now pay at the store goes to administer the program for charging you an extra nickel at the store - assessment, collection and enforcement of the bag tax needs to be paid for! This is significant because the program is large and is not well thought out. Witness:
I ran into the store very quickly during the first week of January with a handful of re-usable bags that my wife and I have been using for most grocery visits for several years now. It really is a responsible thing to do and many people in our community already carry their own.
I got into the checkout line behind my neighbor, let's call her Lucy. Lucy had a full cart of groceries and I got in line behind her and we kibbitzed. As the checker went through Susan's family-sized order she stopped several times to mark up the receipt as it came out of the register counting the bags each time.
Now, by trade I'm an auditor so this process is upsetting me more than a regressive tax whose proceeds will be wasted by a bloated government. I thought aloud: "Certainly there is no need to stop the checking process to count bags, they could be estimated at the conclusion of the transaction. Couldn't they? Even better, I spend over $100 on a typical trip to Safeway. What would be the harm if they elected NOT to charge me for individual bags and instead embedded the cost in my groceries?" (I know I'm not getting out of paying the bag tax but retailers have proven happy to pay a lot more than fifty cents for $100 of my business.)
Now Lucy - not an auditor but with plenty of business sense - works in a chi-chi Potomac boutique of some kind. Well, ok, the kind where you'd blush to walk out with $100 of stuff unless it was really knick knacks. Purchases at this place are typically BIG - and I'm not speaking for anyone here but I've got to believe the store is embarrassed to charge a nickel for anything! Lucy assured me the rules on this are very clear: the retail establishment is to explicitly charge a nickel for every bag - no shortcuts!
Does that really make sense? Is the government really acting responsibly? I noticed they didn't propose actually picking up trash along the highways or on ramps around here. The public library in my neighborhood is still littered with trash all day every day and the strip center behind it is dirty. Why hasn't the county in its effort to decrease litter dedicated the extra nickels it's collecting to doing the things it should be doing - picking up trash in public areas and enforcing zoning regulations that no doubt require private property owners to maintain their exterior?
Sadly, I don't have the answers here. To me, the only thing more depressing than a government that isn't creative (I'd use the word progressive but that is a politically loaded term) and working for the taxpayers is an electorate that doesn't demand better when the government is failing and, frankly, Montgomery County is failing us by charging a regressive tax and not doing anything specific and valuable with the proceeds.
If I can inspire voters and taxpayers to ask these types of questions of their elected representatives and to expect - no demand - results I'll have done my job. In the mean time, shop green!