Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bottle Bursts

All of Albany was buzzing yesterday with news that the Bigger, Better Bottle Bill was going to expand as a result of a deal that had apparently been struck by legislative leaders with the governor. As the NY Times reports this morning:

"Gov. David A. Paterson and legislative leaders have reached tentative agreements on major cuts to health care spending and a significant expansion of recycling laws, legislators, aides and lobbyists who have been briefed on the negotiations said Wednesday evening...The agreement on recycling would require consumers to pay a nickel deposit on bottles of water for the first time, much as they do on bottled beer, soda and other beverages. The deal would also force beverage distributors to give up most of the millions of dollars in unclaimed deposits they are currently allowed to keep. Retailers would also be able to charge distributors a higher fee for every bottle they collect from consumers."

Well, something happened on the way to the printer-and the Times simply got ahead of itself-along with the NY Daily News which told us this morning: "State lawmakers are close to a budget deal to whack 20% from anti-smoking programs, sources said Wednesday night.
They're also close to agreement to expand the 5-cent bottle deposit to cover water and are considering raising salaries for home health care workers - although hospital and nursing home cuts are still on the table."

When word of the deal started to get out the Alliance and its allies-food retailers and soda company reps-mobilized; and by nightfall we counted at least 14 senators who had balked over the deal. The Times catches a whiff of what was in the works: "The legislation, known by supporters as the Bigger Better Bottle Bill, has passed the Assembly several times in recent years only to die in the Senate, which had been controlled by Republicans until this year. The bill is staunchly opposed by a coalition of beverage companies and grocers. But the deal could still fall apart in the Senate, where the chairman of the Finance Committee, Carl Kruger of Brooklyn, and other Democrats oppose it. “I was very upset when I heard about it,” Mr. Kruger said on Wednesday. “Let’s see what the morning brings as the negotiations continue to go forward.”

And, as Cat Stevens used to sing, "Morning has broken..." With the morning comes the reality that the senate apparently lacks the requisite votes to pass this regressive tax on consumers; one that will hurt struggling food retailers, particularly in NYC, and small ethnic bottlers such as Good-O. The short term death of the measure, however, doesn't mean that the expansion is forever interred. It could still be jimmied into the current budget if our coalition doesn't remain vigilant; nothing is over until the ink dries! And we definitely expect its resurrection as a stand alone bill before the session ends.

Which means that the opponents of the expansion who worked so hard yesterday-with particular kudos to the labor folks at the RWDSU, UFCW and the Teamsters-must stay focused, regroup and prepare for a big battle ahead. For now, hats off to Senator Kruger and the amigos-as well as others like Craig Johnson, Diane Savino, Hiram Monseratte, Eric Adams, Martin Dilan, Hassel Thompson, Kevin Parker and Jeff Klein. Their principled opposition has-until further notice-saved the day.