Monday, November 10, 2008

Bag Dad Bloomberg

The brouhaha over the plastic bag tax is ratcheting up, and the furor is helping along the deconstruction of the mythic image of Mayor Mike; people are really beginning to view the mayor differently, and there not liking what they see all that much. As the NY Daily News reported Saturday: "Mayor Bloomberg's proposed nickel-a-bag tax on plastic shopping bags may not sound like much if you're buying a quart of milk - but try shopping for a family of eight.
"It's crazy!" said Eric Mcloud, 34, as he loaded two carts full of groceries into a livery cab outside the Atlantic Center Pathmark in Brooklyn Friday. "You've got to buy the food, and then the bags to put the food in, too!"

As we've said before, the plastic bag tax is both a symbolic as well as a tangible example of the reason why supermarkets are disappearing in NYC; the city never fails to find another reason to tax or regulate the grocery business-with little regard for the impact. A nickel here, a nickel there; it all begins to add up. And what most New Yorkers don't get to see is how all of the hidden taxes and regulations get passed on. Mr. Mcloud, however, sees the bag tax clearly" He and his wife, Dahlia Espada, 37, have six kids - and a $500 grocery bill every two weeks. Each shopping trip generates 50 double-bagged plastic sacks, which would cost them an extra $5 - plus a $1 handling fee for Pathmark."

But the mayor says we need to see this, like the cigarette tax, as something that transcends narrow economic interest. As the NY Post related: "It's not the money, it's the environment, Mayor Bloomberg said yesterday in defending his proposal to impose a tax on plastic bags. "That's like having a cigarette tax," argued the mayor. "The most wonderful thing in the world would be if we collected nothing from our cigarette tax. Think about how many people's lives you'd save."

Conflating lives saved by not smoking with long term land fill issues is pretty silly. Isn't it? And the relative merits of paper over plastic bags is debatable. What's not is that this tax joins the long list of such levies that make the cost of doing business so high in New York. With supermarkets closing all over the city, shouldn't the mayor be looking to reduce overhead for these vital retail outlets?

And don't buy the idea-advanced by Bloomberg own environmental guru-that it will be simple to monitor the plastic tax: "Mayoral aides pointed out that no decisions have been made on how the tax would be collected or even which establishments would be affected. "What if you're in Macy's and get a plastic bag? If you eat at a white-table restaurant and take food home in a bag, would that be taxed?" explained one aide. About a billion plastic bags a year are used here, which would generate $50 million at the nickel-a-bag rate."

As the News tells us: "Bloomberg's environmental experts have proposed to enforce the tax by allowing stores to charge an extra penny per bag, bringing customers' tab up to 6 cents each. They have not said which stores would be covered, in a city that uses an estimated 1 billion bags a year." We're sure there are clever bureaucratic minds already at work on this.

There's no doubt an army of inspectors and regulators in waiting here-waiting to catch some unsuspecting bodeguero for non compliance; to fine him____? A number yet to be determined. But what does Mike care? When's the last time the mayor shopped for his own groceries?

But, as we've noted, the deconstruction process is well underway, and the choice between paper and plastic may actually be seen as a choice to hire someone with more sensitivity to the plight of average New Yorkers: "Meanwhile, a Daily News poll found that 68% of those who responded are opposed to the charge. Keep it up Mike.