Kensington is the front line for the fight over New York’s controversial plastic-bag fee.
Councilman Brad Lander (D–Kensington) successfully championed the 5-cent surcharge on the shopping sacks in Council last year, but state Sen. Simcha Felder (D–Kensington) is now pushing a bill to override the city measure, claiming Lander is just pandering to environmentalists and that Albany can come up with a better solution.
“We’re going to come up with a real policy that protects the environment and not make some politician a hero for some advocates,” said Felder, a Democrat who caucuses across the aisle in the Republican-controlled senate.
Council narrowly passed the fee 28–20 last year, but its rollout was pushed back to Feb. 15 due to the state kill bill, which the Senate passed 42–18 on Jan. 17 with the support of Kings County state Sens. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge), Diane Savino (D–Coney Island), and Roxanne Persaud (D–Canarsie).
The nickel fee, which will go back into stores’ coffers, is supposed to encourage shoppers to forgo the landfill-clogging carrying devices and replace them with reusable totes, but critics claim it is a regressive fine that will fall hardest on low-income households — although people making purchases with food stamps or the Women, Infant, and Children’s program will be exempt.
Felder says he’d rather subsidize tote bags and give shoppers a discount to use them.
“The mayor and City Council believe that the way to solve the problem is punitive,” said Felder. “What about giving them a nickel for not using a bag?”
Felder is optimistic that the measure will be a success in the Assembly, where it’s backed by Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz (D–Sheepshead Bay), but other local lawmakers aren’t so sure the upper house will even bring the bill to a vote — let alone pass it.
“The Assembly may or may not take it up,” said freshman Assemblyman Bobby Carroll (D–Kensington), who supports the fee. “There are some strong opinions on both sides.”
Most Assembly members support the spirit of the city’s law, but are concerned about its implementation — like the fact that the 5-cent fee will go to retailers instead of into, say, an environmental fund, according to Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon (D–Park Slope), who also supports the fee.
But the main concern remains the effect it will have on working-class families, Simon said.
Ideally, legislators at both levels will work together on a solution to the plastic-bag plight that doesn’t fall on the little guy’s shoulders, she said.
“If the city and state can come up with a solution together to accomplish the goal in a way that is effective and doesn’t disproportionately burden certain communities and accomplishes the environmental goal, I think we can get a ‘yes’ on this,” she said.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D–Bronx) did not return requests for comment, but has refused to tell other news outlets whether he will bring the bill to the floor.
Cuomo likewise did not return requests for comment, but has also been generally noncommittal on whether he will sign or spike the measure if it makes it to his desk.
Lander did not return requests for comment.