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Paxton sues Brownsville over bag fee

Of course he does.

plastic-bag

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is wading into another fight over local control; this one about plastic bags at grocery stores.

The Republican on Wednesday sued the city of Brownsville over its $1 per-bag fee, started in 2011 to cut down on waste, calling it an “illegal sales tax.”

“Clearly, Brownsville is raising taxes on its citizens through this unlawful bag fee,” Paxton said in a statement. “The rule of law must be upheld, and state law is clear – bags may not be taxed.”

[…]

The lawsuit, filed in Cameron County, is Paxton’s first attempt to thwart city efforts to curb waste by charging for bags or banning them. He joins the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the powerful conservative group, in that broad effort.

The Brownsville bag fee was passed in 2011, but Paxton is only getting involved now that an appeals court has overturned Laredo’s bag law. You would think that since cities are responsible for garbage collection that cities ought to have a fair amount of leeway to take measures to minimize and optimize that task, but then you would not be Ken Paxton or his meddling enablers at the TPPF. Why is a fee for plastic bags different than a fee for (say) heavy trash pickup or disposal of toxic chemicals? I’m pretty sure the answer to that question will be “it just is” and “because we said so”. If we want different outcomes, we need different leaders.

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14 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    Good for Paxton! I am assuming he will be seeking to overturn the other sin taxes levied in Texas….on cigarettes, and booze, for starters. A plastic bag probably costs less that $ .03. Figure the effective tax rate on that by the city of Brownsville.

    Of course, I know Paxton will do nothing about the other sin taxes that he finds perfectly acceptable.

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    If Brownsville had been more reasonable, and assigned a reasonable valuation of a plastic bag, and charged the usual and customary local sales tax on that value for each bag used, I would have no problem with what they did.

    This, however, is clearly unequal taxation, treating one product differently than another. People that buy garbage bags (Hefty bags) won’t be paying this tax on those bags. Is that fair? What that is, is the government picking winners and losers. That’s wrong.

  3. Jen says:

    Bill, it is time for you to put a bag on your head and proceed to the nearest recycling center.

  4. Bill Daniels says:

    @Jen:

    Cute. Do you have any articulable reasons why you support a city taxing a legal product practically to the point of non existence? What if it was your family that owned a plastic bag company. What if you were employed by the company that makes those bags, and suddenly, a government edict has basically put you out of business.

    Perhaps you favor the manufacturers of other plastic bags, like Hefty, who are not subject to this tax? I’m asking you to forget for a moment that a presumably Dem controlled Brownsville created the law and a flawed Pub state attorney general is fighting it.

    Just defend the bag ban on its merits.

  5. Ross says:

    @Bill, the fee is charged at a single rate regardless of how many bags you get from the store. It would apply to heft bags if they were provided by the store to carry groceries, etc off the premises. It does not apply to bags you buy in their original packaging for use elsewhere.

  6. Jen says:

    The real ‘free market’ here is the money that bag manufacturers have paid in to Texas politics in order to achieve a result, and someone in government has to deliver. This means stomping local control. Speaking of free markets, it seems you turn every discussion into an excuse to sell some Libertarian horse polish. Many people on the internet get paid for doing that.

  7. Bill Daniels says:

    @Jen:

    1) How do I get paid? Here all this time I’ve been givin’ it away for free.

    2) You haven’t explained to me why crushing a legal business is an acceptable thing for government to do. Even Bloomberg’s soda tax wasn’t this draconian.

    Say a plastic bag costs $ .03. Say an average transaction is 4 bags, so $ .12 of bags that are given to the customer are taxed at $ 1.00. That’s an effective tax rate of over 800%
    Why is it OK to tax bags at that rate when the usual and customary tax on other products is around 8.25%, including state tax, which I assume Brownsville is NOT collecting and remitting to the state.

    Be honest….does this seem fair to you? Why should the bag manufacturers have to bribe anyone to sell their legal product here and be treated like every other business that sells a product here? And for the record, are you OK with the Republican backed sin taxes on booze and cigarettes? Are you good with the liberals’ soda sin taxes? If you support all that, at least I give you credit for consistency.

  8. Jen says:

    Film bags are a well-documented public nuisance and are especially bad for wildlife when they get into the water. Hefty bags tend to stay put so are not such a problem. Bag manufacturers, and any business whose product is found to be a nuisance, can do two things. They can adapt the product so it is no longer a nuisance, or they can try to override nuisance laws. In this case the bag sellers can just sit back, Paxton is using taxpayer money to override the law. Why? Doesn’t the Texas AG have better things to do with our money? Why don’t the bag sellers file the lawsuit?

  9. Bill Daniels says:

    @Jen:

    That’s a well put together argument, paralleling the argument put forth in various places to put a “sin tax” on bullets (well, cartridges, actually), and on firearms. Somewhere I heard there was a proposal to put a 25% “sin tax” on firearms, on top of the usual and customary tax.

    I have two issues with the bag sin tax (of course, LOL). First, it is the end user, violating the law by littering that cause the problems, not the bag makers, just like gun users violating the law with guns. Personally, I reuse my bags for trash and to hold scooped poop from the litter box. Excess bags get saved and dropped of in the recycle bin at my local market. Not everyone is so fastidious about disposing of them properly, especially certain, uh, cultures. It’s not fair to punish me (or you, for that matter) for the sins of others. More proper would be to up the enforcement and penalties for littering, to make those doing the trashing pay for the clean up of their mess. We do that to folks that get DWI’s. They pay a surcharge on top of all their other legal issues, to help fund indigent medical care required by people injured by DWI drivers. Seems fair. What doesn’t seem fair is to put an additional tax on booze and prescription narcotics to fund that same charity care, because most of the people who buy that booze and those scripts don’t cause DWI accidents that result in the taxpayers picking up the medical tab for indigents.

    Second, is still the percentage amount of the sin tax applied to the bags. Let’s look at that proposed 25% sin surcharge tax on firearms. Combine that with the regular rate and we are at around 33% effective sales tax rate. The bag effective rate is around 800%. Ouch!

    As to the Texas taxpayers footing the bill for the lawsuit…..that’s a really good argument to use on a libertarian like me. On the one hand, I automatically default to “don’t spend my money on that.” On the other hand, the AG’s office is supposed to protect the people of Texas generally, from harm, and to the people who face that roughly 800% tax on bags, I’d say that is legitimate harm.

    Maybe the cheaper solution would have been for the legislature to pass the “Lawful Protection of Plastic Bag Sellers and Users Act.” 🙂

  10. Bill Daniels says:

    @Jen:

    Upon reflection, I think you won your argument and changed my mind on this. I don’t live in Brownsville and haven’t been there in years. I would say our tax money shouldn’t be used to help ONLY the people of Brownsville, especially when they did this to themselves. This wasn’t a natural disaster, this was a man made disaster that they chose for themselves. If cities all across Texas had the tax and most Texans were subject to it, then I’d be OK with the suit. As it is, though, the people of Brownsville shouldn’t benefit from my tax money for this suit.

  11. Jen says:

    Please place the tinfoil hat on your head and stand in the green bin at the curb. Your ride will arrive shortly.

  12. Bill Daniels says:

    @Jen:

    I’m serious, your argument changed my mind about the appropriateness of Texas taxpayer money being used for this suit. Insulting me doesn’t add anything to your argument. I’ve come to the conclusion that insults come out when someone has run out of logical arguments.

  13. Jen says:

    Simply injecting some humor. Monty Python-Travel Agent (the long Hollywood bowl version if possible)

  14. C.L. says:

    I say, let Brownsville or Port Aransas [who backtracked on their law] or Houston or Hempstead or whoever else establish, enact, and enforce a law against plastic bags. There’s no harm to the public in banning them, and the manufacturer will re-tool his/her petrochemical plant to produce something else. I, in turn, will change my behavior and start carrying my own reusable shopping bag. It’s a win-win.

    Bill, while Kroger may be buying that bag for $00.03, my guess is that its cost to produce is more like $00.003/bag.

    Question is, should my money be used to help the State sue Brownsville. Hell no, but that’s been Paxton’s and Abbott’s MO for a long time now. Sue everyone who’s doing something you don’t like.

    ~C.