Rest easy, humans of New York City, for your overlords in the Legislature in Albany have voted to protect you from your own City Council and mayor and that irritating thing you call “democracy.”
They have taken steps to keep the city safe for plastic shopping bags, to keep them free at the grocery checkout line, free to clog the sewers and landfills, free to float on the breeze and hang on trees and power lines and give neighborhoods a crinkly, trashy character. It will cost you — your city will still have to spend millions of your tax dollars to dispose of 10 billion bags a year. But at least you’ll know that Albany was looking out for you.
February was supposed to be the month that New York City began an experiment in reducing its use of plastic bags, in the interests of a cleaner, greener city. It passed a law requiring stores to charge a nickel for each disposable plastic or paper shopping bag, to encourage people to carry reusable bags. Stores would keep the nickels, so the fee wasn’t a tax. It was simply a mild incentive to encourage better habits, and limit trash.
But the State Legislature this week voted to block the city’s duly enacted law, doing the bidding of the plastic-bag industry, and hiding behind the argument that the fee is a tax on the poor. The Senate passed a bill to kill the fee, and the Assembly passed its own bill to delay for a year any effort by New York City to adopt any such fees.
Can Albany do that? Yes, but not without abusing its power by upending the principle that citizens, through their elected representatives in local government, should be able to decide for themselves issues that affect only their communities.
Lawmakers led by Senator Simcha Felder, Democrat of Brooklyn, said they were moved by pity for those who need their nickels to buy bread and eggs, two props that Mr. Felder held up to illustrate his argument. The Assembly speaker, Carl Heastie of the Bronx, echoed those sentiments.
Their argument was unpersuasive, because the city’s bag law protects the poor. It exempts about 1.8 million New Yorkers who use food stamps. Thanks to the mayor, members of the City Council and borough presidents, free reusable bags have been sent out by the thousands across the city. If the law is allowed to stand, New York households, like those in San Francisco, Los Angeles, the District of Columbia, Hawaii and other places, will soon have a ready supply of sturdy bags to use and reuse. And neighborhoods — especially poorer ones — will have fewer plastic tumbleweeds.
Now it’s up to Gov. Andrew Cuomo to save New York’s law. He can veto the bill, stand up for his hometown, for home rule, for common sense and self-government, and for the environment. Whom will he side with — eight million New Yorkers or the plastic bagmen of Albany? This is an easy call; Mr. Cuomo knows what to do.
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