Viewpoint

Of taxes, plastic bags and consumer common sense

December 6, 2012 

I, for one, recycle zealously, but I know when to let common sense take over; and it certainly was pushed aside when the growing armada of tree-hugging, self-righteous, emotionally-charged environmentalists decided to save the planet by convincing county officials, and maybe (before long) our broke state to ban, or charge for bags at check-out.

Government has whined and connived for dollars after TCD (tax compulsive disorder) was first given a blow by Jarvis over property tax many years ago; but that only made for more capricious forms of taxation, fines and fees to compensate and eventually surpass their former income glory to keep spending. Of course government spending again had a more harsh wake-up call with the recession along with the rest of us and budget cut after budget cut has not taught them much at all as will be witnessed with the coming repercussions from banning bags. Bags are part of the economy.

In the short-term grocers and other quantity bag users are probably going, “Hooray!” since they may feel that they just turned a portion of their overhead (cost) into profit as they must charge for simple bags, or get us to buy the darling, long-term advertising cloth bag. (How long before our grocery bag becomes a status symbol with one shopper eying the Sak’s bag the shopper in front of her has while she only has a Cookie bag?) May I propose that their financial joy will be short-lived?

Here is why. Just how many bags are shoppers going to take with them? Conversely, how many carts with an equal number of items to what the average bag hoarder (1? 2?) carries out of the average grocery do you see going out of the average Costco? The boxes they use cost them only the labor to cut them. What happens to the boxes at Cookie Crock, Ralph’s, Albertson’s, etc. now? They are baled. Why give whatever limited relief back to the consumer when we will sell them bags?

Still, that is the short-term and the problem with all this is the long-term. This silly, little law will increase pollution, lower sales tax, pretty much ends the plastic bag recycling (which puts quite a bit of bags back into the system which may be that water bottle they will eliminate next), will mess with gas prices, and only have an impact on the environment in a few people’s minds. Mother Nature does not recognize a bought plastic bag from a free, or recycled one; and the net conservation has near zero impact on all those other countries, or even our own system where credit may be bought on polluting.

How do I figure this? The customer that had a full cart may now have 1-2 bags. The mental impact of bagging responsibility will make for more focused, less spontaneous shopping which merchandising counts upon for more income. This also means that the single weekly trip to the store may turn into multiple trips to the store, which uses more fuel, and increases more cold/hot starts/stops which negatively influences pollution (CO mostly).

The decreased store revenue also means less sales tax being generated. If each shopper spends only $1 less/trip, then California makes less money (although this could be offset by more trips to the pump tax income). Right now only a few counties are impacted, but it also doesn’t help those that live in those counties, like ours. What will the fallout be for SLO County, and you?

John Torchia lives in Cambria.

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