Some elected officials and special interest groups are celebrating the passage of HB 1166-2019: Howard County – Authority to Impose Fees for Use of Disposable Bags Ho. Co. 04-19 (or better known as the Howard County Bag Tax). This bill (if signed by Governor Hogan) would allow the Howard County Council to bring forward a bill (after October 1st, 2019) to tax shoppers on plastic bags provided by stores at checkout.
This bill with a potential of implementing a local tax/fee (if passed by the council) is being introduced as a way to change the behavior of shoppers. Pat Hersey, co-founder of Less Plastic Please has stated: “We want to change people’s behavior,” and “We’ve done research, and the most successful way of changing people’s behavior is setting up a fee.” (Per a Baltimore Sun article). Delegate Terri Hill has also stated publicly about this bill “to make it about changing behavior” (in a video of a Howard County Delegation meeting in Annapolis).
It is important to see if this type of bill has changed the behavior of shoppers in other local jurisdictions…so I am pulling data and publishing it in this three part series. I am starting with the number of bags taxed in Montgomery County.
Montgomery County is a jurisdiction that has had a bag tax since 2012. Now the law in Montgomery County is a little different in that they tax both plastic bags and paper bags (we almost had that as well but thank goodness other elected officials said no to that idea). The first full year of the tax in MoCo was 2013. How many bags were distributed and taxed in 2013 in Montgomery County?
Now this tax was put also in place to “change the shopping habits of shoppers” and encourage shoppers to bring reusable bags to stores that charge this tax. How much did this number drop between 2013 and 2017? Well, it did not drop at all…the total number of bags taxed in 2017 was:
This data is available on data.montgomerycountymd.gov
So almost 4 million more bags (plastic and paper) left stores and were taxed than in 2013. So that is more than a 6.02% increase in bags leaving stores in that time frame. That data does not tell me that shoppers in Montgomery County have changed their shopping habits based on this tax in their jurisdiction.
But Scott E, more people live in Montgomery County in 2017 than did in 2013. Sure, I admit that is true…but how many more? I checked.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2013 Montgomery County had an estimated population of 1,019,291. In 2017 the estimated population was 1,058,810. So that would be a nearly 3.88% increase in population. Here is the chart:
So we have a 3.88% increase in population and a 6.02% increase in the number of bags being taxed at checkout. Let that sink in for a moment.
I have a hard time squaring the circle that this TAX/FEE on shoppers is doing what the goal is…which is to punish shoppers with a tax for accepting bags from stores at checkout and get them into a habit bringing reusable bags to not pay this tax/fee…thus (if it was working) should be reducing the number of bags taxed at checkout if people changed their shopping habits. The data (to me) does not say this approach is working. More bags are leaving stores…year in and year out since the tax has gone in place…even outpacing the estimated population growth.
These are not the numbers you see discussed (and probably wont see discussed in the future) by elected officials and special interest groups that support this tax/fee. That this why I am putting it out there for my readers in our community.
I am well over 600 words in this post…so that is it for part 1…I will have part 2 VERY soon…where I will look at the data from Washington DC…again proving (via data) that this tax does not really change the habits of shoppers. In part 3 of this series I plan to take a close look at the money this tax generates locally and ask the necessary question…is this really all about the money?
Stay tuned for part 2.