New York City residents are breathing a sigh of relief. We have finally defeated Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Bag Tax.
This fight which we all waged wasn’t just about this one isolated tax. It’s about a mentality that the city revealed to us. We have a fundamental disagreement with Mayor de Blasio. The Bag Tax resulted from our Mayor’s insistence that the only way to address environmental concerns was to punish New Yorkers with a tax, which he liked to call a fee (but a rose by any other name…)The sponsor of the council bill said the fee was meant to “irritate ” New Yorkers into changing their behavior.
But New Yorkers don’t want to be irritated. In fact, irritating people shouldn’t be the job of government. Government’s mandate is to protect its citizens and improve their quality of life, not to make it harder to get by. Elected officials—from New York City to Albany to Washington —should be geared towards bettering the lives of their constituents. Reaching into the pockets of everyday people to teach them a lesson is simply unwarranted and unfair.
Why are so many New Yorkers angry with our Mayor? The reason I and many of my colleagues hear most often is that they see the Mayor nickel and diming them at every turn. The Bag Tax was one more example of how the City over-fines, over-tickets and over-taxes New Yorkers. The Bag Tax at its core is just another way that the city wants to dictate how we live our lives. The truth is that we all pickup positive habits and behaviors from those around us. We don't need parenting from the city, we need governing.
Growing up, my schoolbooks were protected with old newspapers. Paper wasn’t thrown out until every inch was used. We knew not to waste. We were raised with this understanding.
We don’t believe that the Mayor’s office and the City Council should compose a Nanny-ocracy that dictates to New Yorkers about their sugar intake or of course, when questioned about this type of governance, we can expect to hear double-talk or, worse, be demonized for asking such questions. In fact, last month at a hearing in Albany the mayor responded to my concerns with answers like “New York must lead the way in protecting the environment” or “big sodas aren’t good for you.” I agree.
What my critics have done is separate us into two camps. It’s People who care about the environment and those who don't. That is obviously rhetoric used to fuel their cause and polarize us even more. But the simple truth is we all want to do the right thing. That’s never been the issue. But we should take positive measures to get there. We can give a nickel back to New Yorkers who don’t use a plastic bag. Why doesn’t the City educate people about the environment? Isn’t it time that we begin implementing recycling laws that already exist? Recycling bins should be provided for shoppers. In short, let’s keep it positive. Wouldn’t that make more sense?
Ask any number of New Yorkers and they will all tell you the same thing: They are sick of being shaken down by the City. But those same New Yorkers will gladly support positive measures to help.
Or we can take the route of the Mayor and the city council. We can continue punishing people, continue “irritating” them—continue delivering platitudes about mansion taxes and taxing the 1% while it’s really the 99% who are genuinely impacted by this elitist policy. But that wouldn’t be very fair, would it?
Governor Andrew Cuomo signed vital legislation that I introduced and 164 of my colleagues in the Legislature (only 32 disagreed) have voted in favor of, effectively ending the bag tax. As a result, the Governor is establishing a statewide Task Force to develop a uniform State plan for addressing plastic bag use. By the end of this year, my colleagues will conclude with a report and proposed legislation. And if I have anything to say about it, our plan will respect you.
By: Senator Simcha Felder
Senator Simcha Felder serves the 17th Senate District. He has been fighting the Bag tax and similar measures since his days on the New York City Council.