Thursday, March 05, 2009

Bottle Bill Hard of Hearing

The State Senate yesterday held a hearing (via Liz) on the so-called Bigger, Better Bottle Bill, and the lines were drawn early. Environmentalists praised the measure while business groups-particularly in the food and beverage industry-spoke about the costs of the expanded regulation.

One thing became clear, however, not a soul believed that the unclaimed deposits should be used to fund the EPF: "Even supporters of Paterson's proposal call it flawed because it ties funding of the state Environmental Protection Fund to $118 million in projected funds from unredeemed deposits, and strips away the more reliable real estate transfer tax. Sen. Carl Marcellino, R-Syosset, said this method would mean that more redeemed deposits would result in less available money for the already shrunken environmental fund, which pays for land conservation, solid waste, recycling and other programs. "The government should not issue a program and hope it fails," said the former Republican chairman of the environmental committee."

On top of this the pleas of small bottlers such as Good-O Beverage, one of the largest Hispanic operated bottlers, were heard on this issue. As Martin Salo, vice president of the company, told the EnCon committee: "In the first place, the proposal to have the state escheat the unredeemed deposits will take away from Good-O money that it desperately needs to fund the current redemption process. Our margins are thin to begin with, since we sell to small stores in some of the lowest income neighborhoods in the city, state and country. Taking away the unredeemed nickels will force us to raise our prices to the consumer and will, at the same time, reduce the demand for Good-O products-since these sodas are marketed, not only for their unique tastes, but also for their affordability."

This holds true for other small Hispanic-owned bottlers like Inca Kola and Top Pop who need the unredeemed deposits to maintain their own slim margins. In spite of this Senator Thompson, the chair of the committee, believes a compromise is possible: "Senate Environmental Conservation Committee Chairman Antoine Thompson, D-Buffalo, said after the hearing is confident a compromise agreement could be worked out and would recommend to Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, D-Queens, that negotiations be held, he said. "I think there's been a willingness to come together," Thompson said, adding the legislation could be done before a budget is passed."

Perhaps so; but this will mean that the senate majority will have to overcome some significant concerns of Hispanic lawmakers-Good-O is in Senator Espada's district. And if the three amigos stick together-and we believe that the fourth amigo, Senator Monserrate, will re-join his colleagues on this issue-it will be difficult to craft the middle ground here.

Still, it will be a bruising battle; but the dispute over the EPF should effect the removal of the matter from the budget process. Which will leave the measure to be debated as a separate issue later in the session. Our own view is that it is the absolute wrong time to be adding expensive regulations to the beleaguered supermarket, grocery store, and beverage businesses.