Last night the Montgomery County (MD) County Council passed a 5-cent bag tax that they hope will help save the environment at the expense of residents’ wallets.

The tax comes on the heels of a similar measure passed last year in the District of Columbia which has reduced overall bag use but has come at a cost to the local economy according to a study by the Beacon Hill Institute and Americans for Tax Reform.

According to the study, the bag tax will result in the elimination of more than 100 local jobs and precipitate a $5.64 million decline in aggregate disposable income this year alone.

That in turn will create a sales tax revenue loss of $108,340 and a reduction in investment of $602,000 most of it in the retail sector.

The District which had expected the tax to generate $3.5 million in revenue received just $2 million in the first year as shoppers either used reusable bags or did without them altogether.

Yet the tax disproportionally affects the people who can least afford it.  D.C. residents with cars can stash reusable bags in their vehicles or carry a few items from the store to their car without a bag but that isn’t the case with those that rely on public transportation.

Residents who live in the economically deprived areas of the city are far less likely to own a reusable bag or feel like they can afford to buy one and therefore have little choice but to pay the bag tax.

And even though I don’t drink, I just can’t see patrons carrying a reusable bag into the liquor store to buy a bottle of Jack.  Maybe I’m wrong here but it’s hard to envision someone sitting in a park taking a swig from a bottle that’s in a reusable bag.

Maybe someone can manufacture a single serve size reusable bag.

Another problem with the bags is that they get dirty very fast.

At a time when hand sanitizers are ubiquitous in public places researchers found that reusable bags are “seldom if ever washed,” and found that almost all bags tested had large amounts of bacteria turning them in effect into moving Petri dishes.

This should come as no surprise to those that use the bags as they often carry far more than just basic groceries throughout the week.

And when was the last time you washed your reusable bag?

As a Montgomery County resident I will be minimally affected by the new tax as I do most of my shopping at the warehouse stores where boxes are the norm for packing groceries and other purchases but I will miss the occasional bag which serves as a trash can liner or an easy way to carry lunch to work.

But what about those that are already pinched by a sluggish economy and job market?  Also I know of at least one low price grocery store that already charges 5 cents to customers who want a bag to carry their purchases.  Are they now going to charge 10 cents?

Rather than charge twice as much for a bag they will probably just raise prices to compensate for the loss of income which hurts everybody.

The new tax won’t affect the County Council members very much as they collect their $94,000 salaries and whip out their dirty reusable bags but it will hit the pocketbooks of already overburdened taxpayers as they try to make ends meet and live the American Dream.

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