WaPo Editorial Calls for Maryland to Pass Bag Tax From Which Newspapers Are Exempt

The Washington Post today called on Gov. Martin O'Malley (D-Md.) to push for and Maryland legislators to pass a plastic bag tax patterned after the District of Columbia's 5-cent-per-bag levy.

The Post couched the need for the tax in terms of safeguarding the health of the Chesapeake Bay -- much as the D.C. bag tax is purportedly earmarked for cleanup of the Anacostia River.

But curiously enough, plastic bags used to protect newspapers from the elements are exempt from taxation, both under the District law and in the Maryland legislation in question, a fact the Post didn't note in its editorial.

Sherry Schwechten with the public information office for the District Department of the Environment replied to a NewsBusters inquiry via email noting that "[p]lastic bags used solely to hold newspapers are exempt from the District's 5-cent bag fee." Schwechten also noted a few other exemptions, such as bags holding prescription drugs or dry cleaning. 

Indeed, because the 5-cent fee "is designed to cover disposable paper and plastic carryout bags you receive at the register to hold your purchases, in businesses that sell food or alcohol," no tax is levied on the plastic bags carrying newspapers to at-home Post subscribers.

If  that tax were levied on Post subscribers, it would add 35 cents per week to the cost of a subscriber who received the Post every day of the week. That's an additional $1.50 per month or $18.25 per year.

The proposed legislation before the Maryland General Assembly has similar exemptions to those in the D.C. law and also fails to levy a fee on plastic bags carrying newspapers for at-home delivery:

(I) “DISPOSABLE CARRYOUT BAG” MEANS A PAPER OR

PLASTIC BAG PROVIDED BY A STORE TO A CUSTOMER AT THE POINT OF SALE.

(II) “DISPOSABLE CARRYOUT BAG” DOES NOT INCLUDE:

[...]

2. A BAG USED TO:

[...]

E. CONTAIN A NEWSPAPER OR DRY CLEANING;

"[T]he bags are not free -- there's a cost to consumers, to businesses and to governments that have to clean up the mess in waterways and neighborhoods," the Post lectured in its editorial.

That's easy for the Post to preach when the paper has nothing to lose from the inconvenience and cost of the law.

Photo via OregoneLive.com

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters