Mainers Weigh In on Portland Bag Tax and More
Portland Committee Advances $.05 Bag Tax. City Council Next Step
On Wednesday, May 21, Portland's Transportation, Sustainability and Energy Committee voted 3-1 to advance an ordinance adding a $.05 bag tax to paper and plastic check out bags. Councilors Marshall, Donoghue, and Hinck voted in favor of the tax while Councilwoman Cheryl Leeman opposed the measure. The endorsed ordinance now moves to the full City Council likely in June.
In short, the bag tax would:
- Apply to paper and plastic check out bags at businesses that sell at least 2% of their gross sales in food. This would include grocery stores, convenience stores, candy shops and some tourist businesses that sell snacks and goods.
- Restaurants, dry cleaners, farmer's markets, newspaper bags were specifically exempted. Councilman Suslovic, who chaired the task force that drafted the ordinance, made it clear that his intention is to expand the ordinance and possibly increase the fee down the road.
- The per bag fee would be $.05, down from the originally proposed $.10. Additionally, the affected businesses would be able to keep 100% of the fee. However, Maine Revenue Services has weighed in to indicate that Maine's 5.5% sales tax would apply to the bag tax.
- The ordinance would take effect in July 2015.
The Retail Association of Maine, the Maine Grocers and Food Producers Association, the Maine Restaurant Association and a number other business groups have opposed the ordinance. Retailers already collect and recycle unwanted bags and other plastic film by the ton and encourage customers to use reusable bags when possible. Portland should also consider putting lids on their citywide recycling bins to prevent lightweight materials from blowing around on windy days.
Critical Insights Poll Shows Strong Opposition
In May, RAM commissioned a poll as part of the semi-annual Critical Insights Maine Tracking Survey. We asked more than 600 Mainers four questions in reference to the Portland ordinances on bag taxes, polystyrene bans and the ongoing discussion to increase the minimum wage in Portland. The full results are here and they support what our members have been telling us about these issues:
- Mainers OPPOSE bag taxes 72-28%. Even the poll results specifically from Cumberland and York counties oppose the measure 69-25%.
- Mainers also SUPPORT greater recycling and bag reuse programs 88-11%.
- On the issue of banning polystyrene in Portland, Mainers OPPOSED the measure 48-41% with 11% undecided.
- We also asked Mainers their opinion of a $10.10 minimum wage in Portland. 56% OPPOSED the wage increase and 36% supported it. Cumberland and York counties were not significantly different opposing the concept 52-44%.
Our Portland members have told us that the City Council should focus more on supporting their business community instead of trying to regulate it. Many point to the elimination of the city's parking ticket forgiveness program and the ongoing discussion of a "rain" / stormwater tax as other examples of not supporting the business community.
Both the bag tax and the proposed ban on polystyrene foam containers like coffee cups and "clamshell" take out containers are expected to be taken up by the City Council in June.